Health workers on CoronaVac use: Don’t sacrifice our safety
MANILA, Philippines — Health workers on Monday denounced the “inconsistent” official policies on the use of the coronavirus vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech, saying these raised doubts whether they were being provided only safe and highly effective vaccines.
Employees of Lung Center of the Philippines who belong to the nationwide Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) staged a lunch-break protest to show their dismay at the rollout of the Sinovac vaccine, CoronaVac.
“We are dismayed at the sudden turnaround in the decision of the government to inoculate health workers with [the vaccine from] Sinovac, sacrificing the health and safety of the health workers,” said AHW national president Robert Mendoza.
Not FDA recommended
He said the health workers were asking why the government proceeded to use CoronaVac, 600,000 doses of which were donated by China, even if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not recommend it for health workers, the elderly, and people with existing illnesses.
“The government should not pass on to us the burden of fostering public trust [in vaccines]. It’s the government’s responsibility to give the best vaccine and ensure its safety and efficacy in a manner that is consistent and transparent,” Mendoza said.
Dr. Eric Domingo, the FDA chief, received a CoronaVac shot at Philippine General Hospital on Monday, going against his own verdict on Feb. 22 that the vaccine is not the best one for health workers taking care of COVID-19 patients since a clinical trial in Brazil showed it had a barely passable 50.4 percent efficacy.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who was at Lung Center to oversee the start of the government’s vaccination program, refused the shot, invoking the FDA’s recommendation against its use for senior citizens like him.
Experts from the interim National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (Nitag) and the Department of Health Technical Advisory Group (TAG) did not support the recommendation not to give CoronaVac to health workers, but supported the rest of the scope of the FDA’s emergency use authorization.
The immunization group acknowledged the FDA’s position that “the current data does not support” the use of the Sinovac vaccine among health workers, but nevertheless recommended giving them the “autonomy” to decide “in the absence of any other available COVID-19 vaccine.”
The government’s priority list was also set aside, as several government officials, including vaccine procurement chief Carlito Galvez Jr., were among the first to be given CoronaVac shots that were supposed to be only for health workers and uniformed personnel.
The Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC) earlier urged the government to hold off the rollout until the Sinovac vaccine could be evaluated by the Health Technical Assessment Council (HTAC), an independent advisory body to the DOH.
Mendoza said the “ever-changing” government pronouncements betrayed the government’s “insistence” to use the Sinovac vaccine despite its low efficacy.
“There are better options for vaccines with high efficacy rates… Do they really want us to think that there are kickbacks with Sinovac?” he said.
Sen. Joel Villanueva said the government could best honor the health workers by giving them choices of what vaccine to use.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said it was the government’s duty to broaden the source of vaccines.
“It should not be from a single country, but from the entire world—the best vaccines the best human minds had developed,” Recto said.
Sen. Grace Poe, head of the Senate public services committee, urged the government to include drivers and other workers in the transportation industry in its priority groups as their services were key to the country’s economic recovery.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said that while the country was grateful for China’s vaccine donation, the government should also inform Filipinos that the “bulk” of vaccines was expected from the global procurement pool COVAX.
The Philippines is reportedly one of 92 poor countries eligible to receive free vaccines from COVAX. It is reportedly qualified to receive 5.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and 117,000 “subsidized” doses of the Pfizer shot.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros also urged the government to make sure there would be ample supplies of vaccines for all Filipinos.
“After the first-day high on the first jab, let us make sure there is enough vaccine supply that will be suitable and will reach everyone,” Hontiveros said.
—WITH A REPORT FROM MELVIN GASCON
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