Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday urged the Bureau of Customs (BoC) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to ensure that no smuggled or fake COVID-19 vaccines enter the country, amid reports of Chinese authorities confiscating over 3,000 doses of fake vaccines.
The Chinese government seized saline-filled syringes packaged as COVID-19 vaccines, which they suspected were made with the intent to send these abroad.
The gang behind it had been putting saline water into vials and selling them as COVID-19 vaccines in an operation that had been running since last September, according to Xinhua news agency.
Police swooped on several locations across Beijing and multiple cities in the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Shandong, seizing “more than 3,000 fake Covid-19 vaccines on the spot,” Xinhua said.
It has not been made public how many vaccines were sold, but police have traced where the vaccines ended up, it said.
“Our own authorities need to bust any plan to bring those fake vaccines onto our shores. Anyone willing to put other people in danger for quick profit should be apprehended and put behind bars,” Hontiveros said.
As this developed, Senator Christopher Go rated the country’s COVID-19 pandemic response so far as “very good” but cautioned against complacency as the public awaits the implementation of the national vaccination program.
As chairman of the Senate committee on health, Go said that he will support the provision of an additional budget for the Department of Health’s genome sequencing to detect new COVID-19 variants.
Earlier, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in an online media forum that the proposed additional P362-million budget represented the consolidated requirements coming from University of the Philippines – National Institutes of Health, Philippine Genome Center, and also the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.
Philippines not affected by EU export ban
The Philippines will not be affected by the European Union’s export controls on COVID-19 vaccines, the European Union’s (EU) delegation to the country said after President Duterte criticized the bloc for holding up the global supply of vaccines.
In a statement, the EU delegation to the Philippines said exports to 92 low and middle-income countries covered by the COVAX facility, including the Philippines, are exempted from the ban.
“No impact to the Philippines as well as to other poor countries as exports to these countries are exempted from the export ban,” the EU said in a statement.
Manila seeks 900,000 more Pfizer doses
The Philippines will be sending a letter to the management of the COVAX Facility to request additional doses of Pfizer COVID-19) vaccines, National Policy Against Covid-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said on Wednesday.
Galvez, also the vaccine czar, said the country will be requesting more than 900,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines apart from the 117,000 doses set to arrive this month.
Galvez noted that out of the 72 countries that applied for the acquisition of vaccines under the COVAX Facility, the Philippines is among 18 countries that have been given approval.
Through the COVAX Facility, Galvez said the Philippines stands to receive fully subsidized doses for 20 percent of the country’s population.
Pfizer vials can yield more doses
Each Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine vial could have as much as 20 percent more doses if a low dead space syringe is used to administer it—and using each vial frugally could yield more doses, the director-general of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Wednesday.
The space between the plunger and the syringe’s needle is called the dead space.
Ordinary syringes normally have a dead space where the remaining vaccine is stored.
In an interview with GMA News, Dongo said the vial of the Pfizer vaccine needs to be diluted in a syringe. “And if you are really frugal, this can be extended from five doses to six doses,” Domingo said in Filipino. Due to this, the 40 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine may be increased to 48 million doses.
Single-dose vaccine eyed
The anti-COVID-19 vaccine developed by US health care company Johnson & Johnson will be beneficial to the Philippines, a Department of Health (DOH) official said Wednesday, as the jab may not require a second booster to achieve immunity.
“If we can be able to get this kind of vaccines [then] that will be very beneficial for our population,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a public press briefing.
The company said last week its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine was 72 percent effective in preventing the illness in large-scale trials conducted in the United States.
However, the vaccine’s efficacy was lower in clinical trials in Latin America and South Africa at between 57 percent and 66 percent, still above the 50 percent benchmark for approval set by regulators.
Vergeire said the J&J vaccine would be “operationally simple” in the Philippines because the public may not need to receive another shot, unlike those being developed by other drugmakers.
Interval between doses crucial
The interval between the administration of two doses of COVID-19 vaccine based on the evaluation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be strictly followed to avoid reduction of the vaccine’s efficacy rate, the Department of Health (DOH) said Wednesday.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire issued the reminder given that the two COVID-19 vaccines approved by the FDA for emergency use authorization (EUA) so far — those of Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca — have varying intervals between administrations.
The FDA found that the vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech will reach its 92 percent to 95 percent efficacy rate after two doses administered 21 days apart.
On the other hand, the FDA said that AstraZeneca’s vaccine has a 70 percent efficacy rate after first dose, a rate that increases after the second dose is administered four to 12 weeks after.
PGH wants 5,000 workers jabbed
The Philippine General Hospital (PGH) is targeting to inoculate around 5,000 of its employees, with doctors and nurses on the priority list, in just one week as part of their COVID-19 vaccination plan, its spokesperson said on Wednesday.
“We already have a system in place. There is a priority list, we will prioritize all front liners who take care of COVID patients, doctors, nurses, paramedics, they will be the first,” PGH spokesperson Dr. Jonas Del Rosario said in a radio dzBB interview.
Next will be front liners who are not involved in COVID-19 operations and are attending non-COVID patients, followed by PGH’s administrative staff, including personnel and secretaries.
Del Rosario said if all employees, including doctors down the line up to the rank-and-file level, around 5,000 will be covered.
Red Cross wants to buy vaccines, too
The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) is aiming to procure COVID-19 vaccines, its chairman Senator Richard Gordon said on Wednesday.
PRC will offer its assistance to the government in its national vaccination program, Gordon earlier said.
The nongovernmental organization is already helping the government in inoculating children against measles, he said.
“I’ve ordered, if it’s allowed, from big firms like AstraZeneca, 2 million and 200,000 from Moderna. We will also talk to other companies.,” he told ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo.
The Philippines is scheduled to begin its COVID-19 immunization program this month as it expects the arrival of about 1 million doses of vaccines.