Medical professionals have called for public vigilance to ensure the safe rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the country.
The Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC), a group of more than 160 organizations, said Filipinos must guard the core processes of the vaccination program.
HPAAC explained that under the Emergency Use Authorization given to COVID-19 vaccines that show favorable preliminary results, only the national government can transact directly with vaccine firms to ensure proper handling, closely monitor adverse effects and ensure distribution that is consistent with public health strategy.
“Decision-making processes for vaccine selection may be complex. But we have panels of experts with the right qualifications to ensure the integrity of science in public health choices,” HPAAC said.
The vaccine expert panel makes a recommendation on which vaccines can be included in the selection process, after which the Food and Drug Administration grants an EUA after thorough risk-benefit analysis.
The Health Technology Assessment Council further studies the vaccines with EUA if they meet the cost-effectiveness threshold for the intended benefits to the population. An HTA approval is required for any vaccine purchase that involves public funds.
The National Immunization Technical Advisory Group will oversee the prioritization and distribution process while the National Adverse Events Following Immunization Committee (NAEFIC) monitors the possible side effects of vaccines.
“Our civic duty is to understand the process and ensure that these bodies, particularly the FDA and HTAC, remain free from political or economic pressures. Filipinos have the right to factual information and to demand full accountability of the National COVID-19 Vaccine Program. Core legal processes and public health values must be protected and upheld,” HPAAC said.
“Once vaccines are available in the country, each individual has a right to informed choice. No one will be forced to get vaccinated. Given the layers of protection embedded if the right process to ensure public safety is followed, getting an FDA and HTAC approved vaccine confers individual protection and contributes to herd immunity that benefits society as a whole,” the group added.
Herd immunity is reached when a population becomes resistant to the spread of COVID-19 because a sufficient number of people have developed antibodies, either through natural infection or through vaccination.
“We can say that the pandemic will end when we reach herd immunity. Aside from protecting individual lives, the goal of the vaccination program is to reach herd immunity,” HPAAC said.
To reach herd immunity fast, allocation of vaccines should be well strategized and targeted to specific groups.
“A 'me first' attitude will not help our country achieve this goal. Eligible groups determined by our public health strategy must have access to vaccines at the soonest possible time regardless of political belief, religion, cultural/regional group, or capacity to pay,” the group said.