Over 1,000 Filipinos in UAE join Chinese COVID-19 vaccine trial

Over a thousand Filipinos in the United Arab Emirates are among participants in Phase 3 trials for the COVID-19 vaccine of Chinese company Sinopharm, one of the front-runners in global vaccine development efforts against the new disease.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian said about 1,500 Filipinos were among the 30,000 volunteers who joined Phase 3 trials launched in the Gulf State in late June. Trials are also ongoing in Peru, Morocco, Bahrain, and Argentina. 

In an interview with the Daily Tribune's Straight Talk on Tuesday, September 8, Huang said Sinopharm was one of the vaccines approved by the Chinese government for emergency use last July 22. 

“Relevant tests of Sinopharm’s vaccine against major COVID-19 virus strains, including those from Beijing Xinfadi as well as other regions of Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Austria, etc, showed promising results in both safety and efficacy,” the Chinese embassy in the Philippines said in a statement on Wednesday, September 9. 

Huang said trials for the potential vaccine involved over 55,000 volunteers from 115 countries so far. 

Why this matters

One thing scientists need to achieve in clinical trials of vaccines and medical drugs  is ensuring diverse populations are part of tests. 

University of California Oncologist Hala Borno, who studies the gap between “real-world demographics and clinical trial enrollment” told STAT news that enrolling diverse populations in clinical trials for vaccines were part of standards that would ensure its safety and efficacy. 

“When you do not recruit patients to the clinical studies that are ultimately going to receive this intervention in the real world, then you may miss an important signal of efficacy or an important signal of toxicity, which could be devastating,” Borno said. 

In a 2003 study published in medical journal BMJ, Yale University of Medicine Lecturer Saif Rathore also said “race and ethnic group represent valid biological constructs that may modify the effect of any drug studied in a randomized trial and thus necessitate race specific treatments.” 

Philippine options

Sinopharm’s vaccine was earlier listed as one of 5 candidates eyed for clincal trials in the Philippines which were scheduled to begin in October. 

Other potential vaccines being considered by the Philippines’ vaccine expert panel include Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, two candidates from Taiwan, and two more from China. The Philippines was also in talks with the United States for the possible purchase of a vaccine being developed by American biotech firm Moderna. 

The Philippines has also committed to joining the World Health Organization’s solidarity trial for vaccines, and is a participant in the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization COVAX facility designed to guarantee rapid, fair, and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. 

Huang said Sinopharm’s  vaccine may be ready for “mass commercial use” by the end of 2020. The company has built two high-level biosafety production facilities in Beijing and Wuhan, with an annual production capacity of 300 million doses. It is expected to reach up to a billion doses annually after expansion. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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