A Palace spokesman this week defended the emergency use authorization (EUA) issued to the COVID-19 vaccine made by China’s Sinovac, CoronaVac, saying it had met World Health Organization (WHO) standards.
The assurance suggests the WHO has finished evaluating the vaccine and has endorsed its use.
This is simply not the case.
In fact, the WHO representative to the Philippines said on Tuesday that the UN is still evaluating Sinovac’s vaccine and would not comment on its efficacy until the review is complete.
Information about the vaccine’s efficacy in clinical trials, the WHO official added, were merely taken from media reports.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday approved CoronaVac for emergency use but said it is not recommended for health workers due to its lower efficacy rate of 50.4 percent in that group.
Those media reports said the vaccine was found to be 91 percent effective in clinical trials in Turkey, 65.3 percent effective in Indonesia but only 50.4 percent effective in clinical trials in Brazil among medical front liners.
The FDA said late-stage trial data of the Sinovac vaccine showed it had a lower efficacy rate when used for health-care workers exposed to the coronavirus compared with healthy people aged 18-59. This meant it should not be administered to frontline health workers or the elderly, who are on top of the government’s priority list for vaccination.
Another Chinese vaccine made by the state-owned Sinopharm—which was illegally administered to members of President Duterte’s security team as early as last year and which the President favors for himself—is also still under evaluation by the WHO.
So why did the Palace spokesman say that CoronaVac met WHO standards?
Most likely, that comes from the WHO’s target product profile for COVID-19 vaccines, which suggested that a “clear demonstration of efficacy (on a population basis) ideally with 50 percent point estimate” should be a minimum criterion for any acceptable COVID-19 vaccine.
So if the reports about the Sinovac clinical tests are accurate, then the Chinese vaccine does indeed meet the WHO standard—but it would be right on the edge of being acceptable.
In the meantime, the FDA’s observation that the vaccine is not suitable for frontline health workers poses yet another problem, because it throws the government’s well considered list of priorities—health workers and senior citizens first—out of whack.
Who, then, will receive the CoronaVac doses when they arrive this month? That we even have to make this choice speaks to the incompetence that has attended the government’s efforts to acquire COVID-19 vaccines.
In defense of the Sinovac vaccine, the Palace spokesman said that having some protection was better than none at all. This may be true, but given a choice between 50 percent and 90 percent protection, we wonder how the spokesman would choose.