Vaccine czar apologizes; Duterte gets ‘impatient’
The government’s vaccine chief on Friday apologized for the delay in the planned mass inoculation as Malacañang expressed displeasure over the late start of the much-awaited vaccinations.
Carlito Galvez Jr., a former military chief who is in charge of the national vaccination program against COVID-19, asked for the people’s patience following delays in the delivery of the shots.
President Duterte himself is “getting impatient” about the delay, according to his spokesperson Harry Roque.
“I will be honest with you. The President has spoken,” Roque said on government television. “The vaccines have to arrive. And maybe since the President has made these statements, everybody would move faster.”
Speaking at a meeting of the Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic team in Pateros, Galvez appealed for “some patience.”
“I apologize, because we don’t control the supply chain for our vaccines,” he said.
Galvez said he understood that mayors were eager to begin vaccinations and acknowledged that the Philippines had been a bit behind in getting the vaccines.
“Sometimes I feel embarrassed because as I said, only the vaccines are missing. Where are the vaccines? That is the question,” he said.
‘Geopolitics of vaccination’
But the Philippines is not the only country struggling to get a supply of vaccines, most of which have been cornered by wealthy nations, Galvez said. “We see the geopolitics of vaccination,” he said.
Galvez said the Philippines was continuing talks with the Covax facility to get the vaccines from the global procurement mechanism, and was hopeful that it would fulfill its commitment to supply the country with 44 million doses.
The initial delivery to the country of 117,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines from Covax had been delayed due to the need to finalize indemnification agreements.
Galvez also said officials might travel to India to secure the country’s supply of the Novavax vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India.
The Philippines was to receive 600,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine donated by China. Roque said earlier they would arrive by Feb. 23 as the date had been “etched in stone.”
But China would not deliver the doses until the Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the vaccine. The FDA is still processing Sinovac’s request for its EUA.
The delivery of the Pfizer vaccine from Covax was delayed because the indemnification agreement had to be first finalized, Roque said.
He attributed this agreement to the controversy over the Dengvaxia vaccine of Sanofi-Pasteur, which some Philippine officials blamed for the deaths of dengue patients.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Friday pressed government officials to commit to a firm vaccination timeline.
“It seems that they are just shooting darts at the calendar. I hope they start taking accountability for their announcements. This hemming and hawing of the NTF (National Task Force Against COVID-19) does not add to public confidence,” Hontiveros said in a statement.
“The only thing they are achieving at this point is confusing the public,” she said.
The opposition senator said the “blunders” of the task force in failing to secure the early shipment of the vaccines to the country could have been avoided had its officials done due diligence.
“I hate to hear that they keep on using the lack of global supply as an excuse when Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan, also developing countries, have already begun their vaccination program with Pfizer and AstraZeneca,” Hontiveros said.
“Those are the same brands of vaccines we were supposed to have received by now. That means the problem is on our end. The NTF should acknowledge that so [those] slipups don’t happen again,” she added.
Janssen trials begin
Also on Friday, officials announced that the Phase 3 clinical trials for the single-shot vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson-owned Janssen Pharmaceuticals had started.
Rowena Guevarra, undersecretary of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), said the clinical trial included the recruitment and screening of volunteers and actual vaccination.
“As an update to the three FDA-approved vaccine developers to conduct clinical trials in the Philippines, Janssen Pharmaceuticals has already started with their trials,” Guevara said at a press briefing.
A vaccine undergoes three phases of clinical trials—Phase 1 generally tests the candidate vaccine on a small group of healthy volunteers; Phase 2 covers a larger group, typically around 100; Phase 3 involves thousands of participants.
Phase 3 also includes a placebo, or control group, which will receive a substance with no therapeutic effect, and a group that will receive the candidate vaccine.
Vaccines that will undergo Phase 3 trials do not need an EUA from the FDA. However, once trials are completed, and vaccines are considered for wider use, Janssen needs to apply for its own EUA.
The DOST earlier said Janssen would likely conduct trials in San Pablo and Cabuyao in Laguna, La Paz in Iloilo and Metro Manila.
Guevarra said Clover and Sinovac were the two other pharmaceutical companies with approved clinical trial applications.
Unlike the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, which already have an approved EUA, Janssen’s vaccine is a single shot. Both Pfizer and AstraZeneca require two shots to be fully effective.
Johnson & Johnson said Janssen’s vaccine was found to be 72-percent effective in its United States trials. The company also said the vaccine was “85-percent effective overall in preventing severe disease and demonstrated complete protection against COVID-19-related hospitalization and death as of Day 28.” —WITH REPORTS FROM PATRICIA DENISE M. CHIU AND DJ YAP
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