The COVID-19 vaccine from China’s Sinovac will be the only option until the middle of the year, the Palace said Tuesday.
“Until the vaccines from Western drug makers arrive in June, there will be really no choice because only one vaccine will be available, and that’s the one from China,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in Filipino in an online briefing.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, however, said those on the government’s priority list for vaccination could turn down the shot by signing a waiver to say they understand the implications of forgoing the inoculation.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, on the other hand, said the Pfizer vaccine might get here sooner because its rollout would be supervised by the Covax alliance, a global initiative that seeks to give developing countries equitable access to the drug.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said all vaccines authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would be on equal footing and would be safe and effective.
“We do not need to choose the vaccine,” she said in Filipino. “Whatever will be first, let us accept that.”
While millions of doses should be available later this year, nobody below 16 years old may get vaccinated because very few children have been part of clinical trials to date, Nograles said.
The vaccines available in the market can only be administered to people aged 16 or older, based on the information from the manufacturers, he added.
He said some 13 million Filipinos are set to get COVID-19 vaccines from the private sector and local governments as soon as the vaccines arrive in February.
Vergeire, meanwhile, denied that the government is favoring the Chinese vaccine developer Sinovac, one day after the Palace announced it has secured 25 million doses of its vaccine.
“The government is looking at a portfolio of vaccines, not just one or two,” Vergeire said in Filipino on ABS-CBN Teleradyo’s "On the Spot" program.
Vergeire said the market price posted by vaccine developers is not exactly the price that the government would get.
“This is through negotiation. You can lower down the prices,” she said.
Data released by Senator Juan Edgardo Angara’s office last December showed Sinovac costs around P3,600 per dose and is the second most expensive on the list, after Moderna. Pfizer, which already has World Health Organization’s emergency use approval, costs about P2,400.
“We are not giving preference to any one vaccines,” Vergeire said. “Whoever can provide us with the vaccines that we need, that is what we are pursuing.”
Sinovac can still apply for an emergency use authorization (EUA) before their expected shipment arrives in February, Vergeire said. It takes about 21 days for the FDA to grant an EUA.
She said the advance commitments are important to ensure that the country will have enough supply of vaccines.
Malacanang on Tuesday admitted that the Dengvaxia scandal, in which an untested vaccine against dengue was administered several hundred thousand school children, may have led many Filipinos to be suspicious of COVID-19 vaccines.“We cannot deny that this had an influence,” he said in a press briefing.
According to a survey by Pulse Asia, almost half of Filipinos are not inclined to get a COVID-19 vaccine mainly due to safety concerns.
Only nearly a third of 2,400 Filipino adults polled said they are willing to be vaccinated, while 21 percent couldn’t say yet if they want to be inoculated. Of those who don’t want to get the vaccine, 84 percent said they are “not sure of its safety.”
The Palace official assured Filipinos that the government will only purchase vaccines that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, as he called on the public not to listen to false reports being posted online.
“Let us not listen to self-proclaimed experts. Because if a vaccine has been approved by FDA, especially for general use, and is being used worldwide, there is no reason for us to be scared about these vaccines,” Roque said.
In late 2017, the Department of Health (DOH) stopped the government’s anti-dengue immunization program using Dengvaxia after its manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur said that patients who got vaccinated but had no prior exposure to the virus could suffer severe symptoms.
About 800,000 children had already been vaccinated by the time the program was stopped.
The government has expanded its priority list in its COVID-19 vaccination program to include essential workers, heeding the call of Senator Joel Villanueva who sought their inclusion as early as December last year due to their vital role in ensuring basic services are provided to the people.
Villanueva also asked officials of the Inter-Agency Task Force to ensure that its priority targets are clearly identified so that there would be no overlaps in the selection of beneficiaries, thus maximizing the limited vaccine supply.
He said essential workers include jeepney and bus drivers, retail workers, security guards, hospital and laboratory personnel, waste collectors, and food and delivery riders.
"They are responsible for keeping essential businesses continue operating, even while people are on lockdown and most are working from home," Villanueva said.
On Monday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the department will conduct a simulation of the process involved in its vaccination plan, but stop short of the actual administration of a vaccine.
"We will subject the process to a stress test," he told a Senate hearing.
Duque said the government identified 4,512 fixed COVID-19 vaccination points across the country.
He explained that the model will be similar to election poll sites and that existing medical centers and rural health facilities will be used.
Each site will have three vaccination teams, which will each administer the vaccine to 100 people a day.
Those to be vaccinated will have to register, receive pre-vaccination education and counseling, and undergo screening and medical history review before being inoculated.
Afterward, they will get an immunization card and be subject to post-vaccination monitoring and surveillance.
The government aims to inoculate 50 million to 70 million people this year.
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