Private hospital staff will take CoronaVac if gov’t offers it
MANILA, Philippines — Health workers in private and non-COVID-19 referral hospitals remain hesitant to submit to inoculation with CoronaVac even after the government and the manufacturer have said the vaccine will work for staff indirectly dealing with coronavirus infections.
But should the government decide to offer the vaccine donated by China to workers in private hospitals, “we’ll take it,” Dr. Jose Rene de Grano, president of the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines, said on Wednesday. “A vaccine is still a vaccine.”
After all, De Grano said, “vaccines, regardless if they are Pfizer’s or AstraZeneca’s, are only meant to lessen the possibility of serious illness. You still have to follow [other health measures].”
Varying efficacy rate
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday granted emergency use authorization to CoronaVac, manufactured by the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech, but did not recommend it for health workers, who are at high risk for coronavirus infection, and for elderly people due to its varying efficacy rate.
Citing late-trial data of CoronaVac, FDA chief Eric Domingo said the vaccine was only 50.4 percent effective among health workers.
“It’s not the best vaccine for them,” Domingo said, citing the findings of health experts working with the FDA.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Wednesday that the Sinovac vaccine was safe, despite the FDA findings.
Joining Roque’s news briefing by videoconferencing from Hong Kong, Helen Yang, the Sinovac general manager, said CoronaVac had passed the 50 percent efficacy rate set by the World Health Organization, and it had been demonstrated as effective in preventing people from catching the coronavirus.
“If we think about why we use the vaccine, we want to use the vaccine to help the society go back to normal. We want to prevent the disease which required medical assistance. We want to lower down the people who use the beds in the hospital. And those are the results, we have clearly seen that our vaccine works very well,” Yang said.
Roque stressed that CoronaVac was “not recommended,” but “not prohibited” for health workers.
“If the health-care workers want it, they can have it,” he said, adding that he had heard of a nurses’ group that wanted to get the Sinovac vaccine “because the 51 percent protection is better than no protection.”
The FDA’s Domingo told a news briefing at the Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday that his agency’s statement about CoronaVac was not a contraindication.
“It’s not a contraindication, but rather a recommendation for the government. In fact, if health workers say they want the [Sinovac] vaccine already, there’s no stopping them from getting it,” Domingo said.
But Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, a former health secretary, told a news briefing in the House of Representatives that the FDA should review its approval of CoronaVac.
Garin said it was “untenable” to restrict the vaccine among health workers.
“Efficacy is just one component. Many factors should also be considered,” Garin said.
“As long as the vaccine has been declared safe through Phases 1 and 2 and coupled with the issuance of [emergency use authorization] for high-risk groups, [the] FDA should reconsider,” Garin said.
“We cannot decongest our hospitals and take care of other patients if we will not consider the urgent intention of the vaccine, and that is preventing deaths and clinical disease.”
At Roque’s briefing, Yang said that even if the FDA did not recommend CoronaVac for health workers, there would be fewer people who would get and die from COVID-19 and to whom hospital staff would be exposed once the vaccination of the priority population began.
Roque said CoronaVac had also been tested on the UK and South Africa variants of the COVID-19 virus and proved to be effective against them.
He said the first batch of 600,000 doses of CoronaVac would arrive in the Philippines before the end of February.
“We expect that the following day, the vaccination would go ahead,” Roque said.
Jabs should start now
At the DOH briefing, Dr. Rontgene Solante, who serves on the agency’s vaccine expert panel, said vaccinations should start before other variants of the COVID-19 agent that might be more resistant to vaccines spread to the Philippines.
“The concern right now is the South Africa variant, since around two or three vaccines have less effect on it, the antibodies are lower,” Solante said, adding that the Philippines should work quickly to achieve herd immunity before another variant of SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, reaches the country.
The Philippines, which has the second highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Southeast Asia, has yet to start vaccinations because it has not yet signed a single vaccine supply contract due to the absence of an indemnity law that would save manufacturers from lawsuits in the event of adverse side effects.
On Wednesday, the DOH reported 1,557 additional coronavirus infections, bringing the overall number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country to 566,420.
It reported that 22 more patients had died, raising the death toll to 12,129. It also said 392 other patients had recovered, raising the total number of COVID-19 survivors to 523,321.
The deaths and recoveries left the country with 30,970 active cases, of which 88.5 percent were mild, 5.9 percent asymptomatic, 0.80 percent moderate, 2.4 percent severe, and 2.5 percent critical.
—With reports from Jerome Aning, Patricia Denise M. Chiu and Julie M. Aurelio
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