The World Health Organization on Tuesday approved the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use — the second Chinese jab to receive the WHO's green light.
The UN health agency signed off on the Beijing-based firm Sinovac's two-dose vaccine CoronaVac, which is already being deployed in several countries around the world.
The Palace on Wednesday said that Filipinos' confidence in the Sinovac vaccine would get a boost from the WHO decision.
The Philippines has secured 25 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech. So far, 5 million doses of
CoronaVac has been delivered to the Philippines.
They comprise 90 percent of all vaccines to be used by the country against COVID-19. Jabs from AstraZeneca and Russia's Sputnik V make up the remaining 10 percent – 525,600 doses and 15,000 doses, respectively.
"I'm happy to announce that the Sinovac-CoronaVac vaccine has been given WHO emergency use listing after being found to be safe, effective, and quality-assured," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference.
"The easy storage requirements of CoronaVac make it very suitable for low-resource settings," he added.
"It's now crucial to get these life-saving tools to the people that need them quickly."
The WHO said the emergency use listing (EUL) gives countries, funders, procuring agencies, and communities assurance that the vaccine has met international standards.
Last month Sinopharm became the first Chinese vaccine to be approved by the WHO.
The organization has also given EUL status to vaccines being made by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and the AstraZeneca jab being produced in India, South Korea and the EU, which it counts separately.
WHO's listing paves the way for countries worldwide to approve and import a vaccine for distribution quickly, especially those states without an international-standard regulator of their own.
It also opens the door for the jabs to enter the Covax global vaccine-sharing facility, which aims to provide equitable access to doses around the world, particularly in poorer countries.
Currently, only AstraZeneca and some Pfizer jabs are flowing through the scheme.
"The world desperately needs multiple COVID-19 vaccines to address the huge access inequity across the globe," said Mariangela Simao, the WHO's assistant director general for access to health products.
"We urge manufacturers to participate in the Covax facility, share their know-how and data and contribute to bringing the pandemic under control."
"WHO recommends the vaccine for use in adults 18 years and older, in a two-dose schedule with a spacing of two to four weeks," the agency said in a statement.
"Vaccine efficacy results showed that the vaccine prevented symptomatic disease in 51 percent of those vaccinated and prevented severe COVID-19 and hospitalization in 100 percent of the studied population."
The Sinovac vaccine contains an inactivated form of coronavirus that cannot cause the disease. It also has a substance that helps strengthen the immune response to the vaccine.
When given the shot, the immune system identifies the inactivated virus as foreign and makes antibodies against it, which will then recognize the active virus and defend the body against it.
Few people aged over 60 took part in the clinical trial of Sinovac's jab.
However, the WHO said there should be no upper age limit on the vaccine as there is "no reason to believe it has a different safety profile" in older generations.
The Sinovac jab is already in use in 22 territories around the world, including the Philippines. Chen Xu, China's ambassador in Geneva, said CoronaVac's EUL status expanded the number of global tools to fight the pandemic.
"China will continue to work with the international community to promote the accessibility and affordability of COVID-19 vaccines especially in (the) developing world," he said in a tweet.
But a health expert that advises the government’s pandemic task force said the Philippines failed to meet its target of vaccinating one-fifth of senior citizens and people with co-morbidities.
Dr. John Wong, during a town hall forum organized by the Department of Health (DOH), said the government fell short of its COVID-19 vaccination target for those belonging in the A2 (senior citizens) and A3 (co-morbidities) categories.
"If we're targeting to vaccinate 70 percent of the population by December… in the three-month period, we should have vaccinated about 21 percent," said Wong, a member of the technical working group on data analytics for the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).
Wong said that apart from supply issues, vaccine hesitancy hampered the country's aim of achieving herd immunity.
"So, we're doing well with health workers but not so good with seniors and persons with co-morbidities," he said.
Government figures showed that 1.4 million out of 1.55 million health workers or 90 percent already received the COVID-19 jab.
Only 1.3 million out of 9.4 million senior citizens or 14 percent have been vaccinated so far.
More than 1.1 million out of 14.5 million people with co-morbidities or 8 percent were inoculated against the respiratory illness.
In a March 2021 survey, 6 in 10 Filipinos were reluctant to get vaccinated. In the Pulse Asia poll with 2,400 adult respondents, some 61 percent do not want to get any COVID-19 vaccine—a sentiment shared by majorities across geographic areas and socio-economic groupings.
In a separate DOH survey involving 43,000 participants, respondents cited possible side effects of the vaccine, negative information on social media, and doubts on its efficacy as their top three reasons for hesitating to be jabbed against COVID-19, DOH spokesperson and Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in an online press briefing.
During the forum, Wong, also founder of health research institution EpiMetrics, Inc., said that 50 percent of the vaccine recipients failed to come back for their second dose.
Some 1 million out of 2.1 million vaccinated persons missed their second dose.
"Half of the people who have taken their first dose are missing their second dose. So, we need to follow up on this," Wong said.
Wong also reported that vaccination rate by region varied, with the National Capital region leading the pack, followed by the Cordillera Autonomous Region and Cagayan Valley.
However, he noted that not all areas under the so-called NCR Plus are "vaccinating rapidly enough". He didn't mention what areas are lagging in the inoculation drive, however.
"You see some regions who are prioritized in terms of supply but have been underperforming in terms of vaccination rate. They're not vaccinating rapidly enough to maximize their increased supply," Wong said.
On the other hand, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said as supply starts to stabilize, the government has entertained the possibility of the entire adult population being vaccinated by August.
Galvez said this was not wishful thinking as vaccine manufacturers deliver 15 million to 20 million doses by August.
The seven vaccine sources are AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, Sinovac, Gamaleya, Novavax, and the COVAX facility.
What the government worries about more is vaccine hesitancy, which is at about 49 percent, he said.
“The scary part is when we have volumes of vaccines but they are mostly just stored and would remain unused)," Galvez said.
The DOH has started vaccinating personnel of One-Stop Shop (OSS), the frontline workers tasked to assist overseas Filipino workers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Ma. Consuelo Bungag, chief information officer of the Manila International Airport Authority, said 1,500 workers were listed in the first batch of people who will be inoculated with Sinovac vaccines.
She said the Department of Health will administer the vaccination while the MIAA management provided the facility for the vaccination to protect the OSS front liners, who belong to the A4 list of priorities.
"The vaccination is voluntary. If they don't want to get vaccinated, we can't force them," Bungag said.
Flag carrier Philippine Airlines on Wednesday shipped another batch of Sputnik V and Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines as the government continued transporting the vaccines to protect the people in the Visayas and Mindanao.
PAL aircraft shipped to Davao 900 ampoules of Sputnik V and 3,520 vials of Sinovac vaccines. A separate shipment of 300 ampoules of Sputnik V was also delivered in Cebu. With AFP