French pharmaceuticals giant Sanofi and Britain's GSK reported on Monday "strong immune responses" in early tests of their COVID-19 vaccine, raising hopes it could join the fight against the pandemic.
The companies said the results of the Phase 2 study will enable them to move to a late-stage trial in the coming weeks--a reversal of fortune after their research was dealt a setback late last year.
The experimental vaccine "achieved strong rates of neutralizing antibody responses, in line with those measured in people who have recovered from COVID-19, in all adult age groups in a Phase 2 study with 722 volunteers," it said in a statement.
"A global pivotal Phase 3 study is expected to start in the coming weeks."
An earlier study in late 2020 showed the vaccine provided a low immune response in older adults. The companies said the vaccine would not be ready until the end of 2021.
The initial failure was a setback that dented French pride as France is the only permanent member of the UN Security Council not to have its own vaccine after successes for Britain, China, Russia and the United States.
In the Philippines, Sanofi was also embroiled in controversy when the company announced that the dengue fever vaccine Dengvaxia was found to increase the risk of disease severity for some people who had received it— after more than 830,000 children in the Philippines had received at least one dose of the vaccine.
But Thomas Triomphe, executive vice president and global head of Sanofi Pasteur, was upbeat about the company’s prospects.
"Our Phase 2 data confirm the potential of this vaccine to play a role in addressing this ongoing global public health crisis," he said.
"As we know multiple vaccines will be needed, especially as variants continue to emerge and the need for effective and booster vaccines, which can be stored at normal temperatures, increases," he said.
The firms are combining a Sanofi-developed antigen, which stimulates the production of germ-killing antibodies, with GSK's adjuvant technology, a substance that bolsters the immune response triggered by a vaccine.
Also on Monday, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) moved mayors and governors up the vaccination priority, putting them in the A1.5 category.
Local leaders were previously under the A4 category on the vaccine priority list.
The country has around 1,634 provincial governors and city and municipal mayors.
The country's 1.7 million health care workers make up the A1 category while senior citizens and persons with co-morbidities are part of A2 and A3 categories, respectively.
To date, the Philippines has administered a total of 2,959,829 Covid-19 vaccine doses.
Of this number, 2,245,397 have received their first dose of the vaccine, while 714,432 have received their second dose.
The country now has four brands of COVID-19 vaccines in its inventory—Sinovac’s CoronaVac (China), AstraZeneca (UK), Sputnik V (Russia), and Pfizer (US).
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque emphasized the need to move mayors and governors up on the vaccine priority list because they are primarily in charge of prevent-detect-isolate-treat-reintegrate (PDITR) measures to slow down COVID-19 infections.
“They are the ones implementing localized lockdowns, vaccination. They are really the instrument in the fight against COVID-19. They may not be doctors, but our local officials—mayors and governors—are the ones on the frontlines in our strategy,” he said in a Palace press briefing.
The country kicked off its vaccination for frontline health care workers on March 1.
The Philippines aims to vaccinate around 50 million to 70 million Filipinos this year.
After initially warning against mixing and matching COVID-19 vaccines, the Health department said it is studying the possibility of using different brands for the first and second shots as well as booster shots that follow.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said Health and Sience officials, as well as the Vaccine Expert Panel (VEP), have had several meetings to discuss a study on mixing and matching vaccines.
“The proponent of this trial already presented to us their protocol to study mix-and-match, where you can get another brand aside from the initial brand that you were given,” she said in Filipino.
“Also included in this study is the additional shot, which is a different brand for those who have completed two doses already.”
Vergeire said details of the study, including the source of funding, are still being ironed out.
VEP head Dr. Nina Gloriani earlier said experts were looking into the possible mixing of COVID-19 vaccine brands as the country continues to grapple with a supply shortage.
Dr. Lulu Bravo, executive director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination, also said there is "no harm” in mixing vaccine brands.
The Department of Health, however, has not endorsed this practice.
Also on Monday, the head of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) said Monday the organization would sell Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines for P3,500 for two doses.
PRC chair Richard Gordon told ANC's Headstart that around 200,000 doses from the US pharmaceutical giant are set to arrive next month.
"If we are going to wait for the [government's] vaccines to come, we will be late," Gordon said.
"Those of you who cannot wait, you pay P3,500 and that's two doses already," Gordon said.
The PRC also procured vaccines from AstraZeneca. However, the vaccines are not expected to arrive until next year, Gordon said.
"With India tightening the [vaccine supply] line, it's hard," he said.
Gordon did not say how the PRC could sell the vaccine that has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has granted only emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccines thus far.