Malacañang: No reason to hold back on Sinovac
MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang will proceed to buy 25 million doses of a China-made COVID-19 vaccine despite misgivings in some sectors about its low efficacy rate and steep price.
CoronaVac, made by Sinovac Biotech of China, has an efficacy rate of only 50 percent, compared with Western vaccines that are 70 percent to 95 percent effective against the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. It is also the second most expensive among the candidate vaccines, at P3,629 for the two-dose regimen.
Senators Francis Pangilinan and Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday questioned the government’s preference for CoronaVac despite its unimpressive showing in clinical trials and high price.
The latest disappointing report on CoronaVac’s performance came from Brazil on Wednesday, with researchers returning a finding of 50.4 percent efficacy rate, barely enough for regulatory approval.
Citing the latest findings, Pangilinan called on the Department of Health to cancel the order for 25 million doses of CoronaVac.
Also citing CoronaVac’s lower power and record of suspended trials, Lacson demanded explanation for the government’s preference for the China-made vaccine whose developer had not even applied for emergency use authorization here.
(Sinovac Biotech applied for emergency use authorization on Wednesday afternoon, but Food and Drug Administration chief Eric Domingo said on Thursday that the company submitted data for Phases 1 and 2 trials only. He said the FDA would ask Sinovac to submit Phase 3 trials data.)
Responding for the Palace on Thursday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque denied the government was favoring Sinovac and said there was no reason for the administration to turn its back on CoronaVac, which would not be used here without clearance from the FDA.
President Duterte himself, in a televised address to the nation on Wednesday night, defended his administration’s decision to buy CoronaVac, saying China-made vaccines were as good as shots developed by the Americans and the Europeans.
He said he would be responsible for the vaccines that Carlito Galvez Jr., who handles the vaccine procurement for the government, would buy.
“Whatever Secretary Galvez would choose would bind me,” Mr. Duterte said. “It’s as if I was the one that purchased the vaccines. So I would not buy a vaccine that is not appropriate.”
But if some people don’t want the vaccines, “then good,” he said. “We can give it first to those who want it, and we can tone down the orders if there are too many.”
Third most expensive
Roque also said that contrary to critics’ claims, the Sinovac vaccine was not the most expensive among the shots to be procured by the government.
The Sinovac shot, he said, is the third most expensive among six vaccines to be purchased. Roque, however, said he could not divulge the actual prices because the government had confidentiality agreements with the pharmaceutical companies.
Roque cited the Philippines’ “special relations” with China, because of which, he said, it was given an advantage. He said the first batch of 50,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine would arrive in February.
Also arriving in February, maybe ahead of CoronaVac, vaccine czar Galvez said on Wednesday, is the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which the FDA authorized for emergency use in the Philippines on Thursday, making it the first COVID-19 shot to be approved in the country.
Speaking at a news briefing, FDA chief Domingo said the Pfizer vaccine had shown a 95 percent success rate and it could be effective in preventing COVID-19, which had infected nearly half a million Filipinos.
Domingo cited the FDA finding that the Pfizer vaccine’s benefits outweighed its known and potential risks.
“The [Pfizer] vaccine had mild to moderate side effects comparable to usual vaccines already in the market,” Domingo said.
He said he saw no reason why local governments could not buy the Pfizer vaccine for their own inoculation programs, as long as their purchase was part of a tripartite agreement with the national government and the manufacturers.
Domingo, however, said it might be difficult for local governments to handle the Pfizer vaccine, as it requires storage in ultra-low temperatures.
Currently, he said, only Metro Manila, Cebu City, and Davao City have equipment with temperatures as low as minus 80 degrees to minus 70 degrees Celsius.
The FDA is still reviewing the applications for emergency use authorization of the British-Swedish vaccine developer AstraZeneca and the Russian Gamaleya Research Institute.
AstraZeneca submitted its application on Dec. 13 and Gamaleya on Jan. 6.
Domingo said a decision on AstraZeneca’s application may be reached within the next 21 days. —WITH REPORTS FROM PATRICIA DENISE M. CHIU AND REUTERS
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