Experts approve Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine for health workers

The Department of Health's (DOH) advisory group has approved the use of Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine for Philippine healthcare workers but said those who prefer another brand would not be penalized.

The interim National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) made the announcement in a virtual press briefing hosted by the DOH on Friday afternoon, February 26.

"Really, the Sinovac vaccine that we evaluated is safe for use for healthcare workers. We need to protect them. And since ito ang available ngayon e kailangan nating gamitin (this is what is available now, we need to use it)," said Dr Maria Consorcia Quizon of NITAG.

Dr Edsel Salvana of the DOH technical advisory group (TAG) said that based on NITAG's studies, Sinovac's CoronaVac "looks like it will save lives and so it is but right to offer to the people on the frontlines who have been saving lives."

"If they don't think this is the right vaccine for them, we will not penalize them," Salvana added.

'Safe' to offer to health workers

Dr Ana Ong -Lim, also a member of TAG, said that the first batch of the vaccines that would arrive in the country would need to be allocated rationally because vaccine resource is "very scarce."

"After much deliberation, nakapagkasundaan ng NITAG at TAG na sulit pa rin na ito ay  i-alok sa ating heath workers at mabigyan sila ng pagkakataon based on their own understanding sa mga ibibigay nating information kung gusto nila itong tanggapin or hindi," she said.

(After much deliberation, NITAG and TAG have agreed that these vaccine is still worth offering to our health workers and to give them the option to decide for themselves whether to accept it or not, based on their own understanding of the information that we will give them.)

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that they are still finalizing the list of hospitals that would receive the first batch of the vaccines but the ones to be prioritized are healthcare workers in COVID-19 dedicated hospitals.

The Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and the Lung Center of the Philippines are among the known COVID-19 dedicated hospitals in the country.

On Friday, healthcare workers at PGH demanded free, safe, and effective COVID-19 vaccines.

Malacañang welcomed the development. "The Sinovac vaccine is expected to arrive on Sunday, February 28, and we are confident that many of our healthcare workers would get themselves inoculated to boost public confidence in our mass vaccination program against the coronavirus," said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.

Sinovac’s CoronaVac will be the first batch of vaccines to arrive in the Philippines.

The Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Sinovac emergency use authorization but recommended against administering it to health workers with high exposure to the disease. 

FDA Director General Eric Domingo said its lower efficacy of 50.4% from trials in Brazil led experts not to recommend its use in the priority sector. The Brazil trials involved health workers exposed to COVID-19.

The agency instead recommended its use to people aged 18 to 59 after separate Phase 3 trials in Indonesia and Turkey demonstrated an efficacy of 65.3% to 91.2%. These trials were done mostly in community settings and not among health workers who were exposed to COVID-19.

The DOH said that a separate media briefing will be held to announce the kick off of the country's vaccination program. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier estimated that the country could start administering vaccines on Monday, March 1. – Rappler.com

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.

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