FDA okays Sinovac use on seniors

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    THE Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday afternoon approved the recommendation of the Vaccine Experts Panel (VEP) to use the COVID-19 vaccine of Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac on senior citizens.

    FDA Director General Eric Domingo, in a phone interview, said: “After considering the recommendation of the experts and the current situation of high COVID-19 transmission and limited available vaccines, the FDA is allowing the use of Sinovac on senior citizens.”

    In its previous emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Sinovaci vaccine, the FDA has said that this may only be administered on healthy members of the population aged 18 to 59 years old.

    Domingo, however, said there must be a thorough evaluation of the health condition of the senior would-be recipients before the vaccine is administered to them.

    “Vaccination should be preceded by an evaluation of the person’s health status and exposure risk to assure that benefits of vaccination outweigh risks,” said Domingo.

    The VEP proposed the use of Sinovac shots to the elderly after the health department sought its opinion on the possibility of using these doses on seniors since these are the remaining vaccines available in the country.

    The expert panel’s recommendation was based on its reviews of the use of the Sinovac vaccine on the elderly in other countries, such as China, Indonesia, and Turkey.

    As to the other COVID-19 jabs delivered in the country, AstraZeneca, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said they still have no reason to stop using it as soon as the new batch arrives in the country.

    This, she said, is despite foreign reports that blood clots have appeared in a handful of patients who received AstraZeneca vaccines.

    “It doesn’t give us major indication to stop the vaccination,” said Vergeire.

    Nevertheless, she said they will wait for the recommendations of the FDA as they have been getting updates from the manufacturers.

    She said they will also wait for instructions from the World Health Organization (WHO).

    “If the WHO tells us to continue vaccination, we will adopt this because WHO gets their information from the international scientific committee and has scientific evidence,” said Vergeire.

    As to the arrival of the next AstraZeneca doses, Vergeire said they have been informed that it may come in time for the tail-end of the provision of second doses.

    “Giving the 2nd dose may be extended up to 12 weeks. We are looking at their arrival by the 12th week or end of May, or first week of June,” said Vergeire.

    The Philippines has already used up all 525,600 AstraZeneca doses provided by the COVAX Facility.

    As of April 6, DOH data showed that there are already 922,898 COVID-19 jabs that have been given out of the 2,525,600 doses available in the country.

    This include the 872,213 first doses, and 50,685 second doses administered to priority groups A1, A2, and A3.

    Dr. Minette Claire Rosario of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) yesterday backed government’s plan to put the NCR Plus bubble at the center of its anti-COVID-19 vaccination program.

    Rosario said it is practical to focus on the National Capital Region and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal since these areas are the country’s center of economic activities.

    During the Laging Handa public briefing, Rosario said that to assure the success of the program, 60 to 70 percent of NCR’s population should be inoculated.

    “This can be done since almost all of the activities are happening here… But 60 to 70 percent of the population in NCR should be targeted to reach herd immunity),” she said.

    National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. the other day said the government is planning on focusing the government’s vaccination program in areas with high number of infections such as the NCR, Central Luzon), Calabarzon, Western Visayas, and Zamboanga Peninsula, as well as Cebu and Davao.

    Galvez said several sectors had recommended the move especially in light of the limited number of vaccines that have arrived in the country.

    At present the vaccination program is implemented nationwide but focused only on those under the A1 category (frontline workers in health facilities both national and local, private and public, health professionals and non-professionals like students, nursing aides, janitors, barangay health workers, etcetera), A2 (senior citizens), and A3 (persons with comorbidities).

    Monitoring records show that 21,810 out of 825,662 Filipinos who have been vaccinated nationwide are senior citizens.

    At present, only Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines are available in the country. A total of 1.468 million out of the 2.252 million doses of vaccines have been deployed by the government nationwide.

    The country expects to receive 2 million doses of vaccines this April: 1.5 million doses from Sinovac and 500,000 from Gamaleya, and 4.194 million May or 2 million doses from

    Sinovac, 2 million from Gamaleya and 194,000 from Moderna.
    Galvez said they expect the vaccine deliveries to increase starting June, with about 10.5 million doses from Sinovac, Gamaleya, Novavax and AstraZeneca scheduled to arrive.

    The bulk of the vaccines would arrive by July onwards when country-producing vaccines have already completed the inoculation of their people. At least 13.5 million doses of vaccines from Sinovac, Gamaleya, Moderna, Novavax, Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca are due in July with 20 million doses from different companies starting August to December.

    The League of Provinces of the Philippines said all governors and mayors in COVID-19 low-risk areas should also be prioritized by the government in its ongoing vaccination program.

    LPP president and Marinduque Gov. Presbitero Velasco Jr asked President Duterte and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to move all governors and mayors under the A1 category.

    The IATF has recently approved the vaccination of governors and mayors in high-risk areas under the A1.5 category, joining members of the Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams, contact tracers, and social workers.

    At present, governors and mayors who are in low-risk areas are vaccinated under A4 category, along with frontline personnel in essential sector like soldiers and policemen.

    Those in the A1 category are healthcare workers, A2 is composed of senior citizens, A3 are persons with comorbidities while A5 are members of the indigent population.

    “Only 81 governments are requesting that governors be included in the group A1,” said Velasco, stressing that

    governors should be considered as principal or key health workers because they go to COVID-19 isolation areas and provincial hospitals to oversee to check on their constituents.

    “Ten of our governors have already tested positive and if we have no protection and not vaccinated, we are exposed,” said Velasco.

    He said if governors are infected and quarantined, the provincial government’s COVID-19 response will be compromised.” That is why we are requesting the IATF and President Duterte to allow the governors be included, that’s only 81, under group A1,” he said.

    Velasco said all mayors, also regardless of their COVID-19 risk classification, also deserve to be classified under A1 because they are also leading the COVID-19 response in the cities and municipalities.

    “They are also in the forefront in the fight against COVID-19. They should be also included under A1,” he said.

    The Integrated Bar of the Philippines also asked the National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF) and the IATF to include lawyers as priority recipients for COVID-19 vaccination under group A4 or frontline personnel in essential public and private sectors.

    In a letter dated March 30, the IBP through its national president Domingo Egon Cayosa said lawyers work have been working as frontline personnel since the start of the pandemic by “proactively supporting COVID-19 patients, health workers and frontliners” as well as through collaboration with government agencies and local government units in “educating the public about laws and ordinances pertaining to the pandemic.”

    “More importantly, the presence of preferred counsel is constitutionally required especially for those charged with criminal offenses and lawyers are deemed essential officers of the court in their mandate to dispense justice, maintain peace and order, and safeguard public welfare under the rule of law,” Cayosa said. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Victor Reyes and Ashzel Hachero