Healthcare workers retain vaccination priority slots

INDONESIA. In this photo released by the Indonesian Presidential Palace on Jan. 13, 2021, President Joko Widodo, left, receives the first shot of the Sinovac vaccine against Covid-19 in Indonesia. (File)

THE National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (Nitag) on Friday, February 26, 2021, announced that it has decided to stick to the prioritization framework for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) vaccination program and give healthcare workers priority in the rollout of the Sinovac vaccine.

This, despite the advice of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that the Sinovac inactivated vaccine against Covid-19 is not recommended for healthcare workers who deal directly with Covid-19 patients.

Dr. Nina Castillo Carandang, a member of the Nitag and a University of the Philippines professor, emphasized that vaccination with the Sinovac vaccine is voluntary.

Healthcare workers, who have been in the frontline of the battle against Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, will still enjoy the “right of first refusal after informed choice.”

“We want to preserve the line of priority for healthcare workers because they deserve it. If they want to give up their slot for this particular Sinovac vaccine and wait for the next vaccine to arrive in the country, that is their personal decision,” Carandang said during the Department of Health (DOH) virtual press conference Friday.

“If they are hesitant to accept this vaccine, then they can wait for the next available vaccine. But we don’t know when that will be,” she added.

Malacañang announced Thursday that 600,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine will arrive in the country on February 28, 2021. This will be the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines to arrive in the Philippines.

The National Task Force Against Covid-19 and DOH, however, said implementation of the vaccination program was not expected to commence immediately because the Nitag had yet to decide on which population groups should be given priority, given the FDA’s recommendation.

In granting an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Sinovac vaccine, the FDA said that it is not recommended for healthcare workers because clinical trials in Brazil showed an efficacy rate of only 50.38 percent among healthcare workers who deal with Covid-19 patients.

DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, however, pointed out the FDA merely said the vaccine is not recommended for healthcare workers.

“Hindi n’ya po sinabing bawal. Hindi rin n’ya po sinabing contraindicated. Ang sabi po n’ya, pina-flag n’ya po ang Philippine government dahil nakita doon sa pag-evaluate nila na mababa na laban against the disease,” Vergeire said.

“But when you try to look at the whole spectrum at ‘yung kabuuang dokumento, makikita po natin d’yan, 100 percent protection from severe disease, from hospitalization, (and) 70 plus (percent) protection from moderate disease. That alone ay isa pong napaka-critical na impormasyon na kailangan nating ipamahagi sa ating mga kababayan,” she added.

(FDA did not say that the Sinovac vaccine is prohibited. It did not also say that it’s contraindicated. What it said was that it has low efficacy against mild disease. But when you look at the whole spectrum, the vaccine provides 100 percent protection from severe disease and hospitalization, and over 70 percent protection from moderate disease. This is a very critical piece of information that we should share to the nation.)

The Sinovac inactivated vaccine, which was developed by Sinovac Life Sciences in China, will be administered to clinically healthy adults 18 to 59 years old. It will be given in two doses, 0.5 ml each, four weeks apart.

While it showed low efficacy among healthcare workers who are directly exposed to Covid-19 patients, the Sinovac vaccine was shown to be 100-percent efficacious against hospitalization.

It also showed an efficacy of 78 percent among adults with mild to severe symptoms.

In Turkey, phase 2 clinical trials among healthy adults showed an efficacy of 91.5 percent while in Indonesia, the vaccine yielded an efficacy rate of 65.3 percent. Indonesia issued an EUA for Sinovac on January 11, 2021 and certified it as halal.

As of Wednesday, Sinovac Biotech general manager Helen Yang said the vaccine has been administered to over 20 million people, both in China and outside of China.

Twelve countries have already received the Sinovac vaccine, including Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Colombia. Three more are expected to get the vaccine by the end of this week, Yang said.

Common symptoms from the Sinovac vaccine are pain at the injection point, headache and fatigue. There have been no reports of deaths related to the vaccine, Yang added. (Marites Villamor-Ilano / SunStar Philippines)


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