Few Sinovac takers at PGH, says survey

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    ONLY about 12 percent of employees of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) are willing to be inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines made by the Chinese private firm Sinovac Biotech.

    This is based on a survey of 2,000 of around 5,000 PGH employees.

    “Among the 2,000 PGH employees, healthcare workers and support staff, of PGH, only around 12 percent agreed to be vaccinated with Sinovac,” Dr. Jonas del Rosario, in a TV interview on Saturday.

    A batch of 600,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, CoronaVac, donated by the Chinese government, arrived yesterday. It is the first batch to arrive in the country. Among priority targets are health workers.

    Del Rosario said there is no problem with the low number of those willing to be vaccinated as inoculation is “voluntary.”

    “We won’t force it to anyone. The doctors, nurses, and other PGH employees have the right of refusal,” he said.

    The 88 percent of PGH employees will be retained in the priority list, he said.

    “We will respect their decisions. So once the next vaccine brand arrives, it will also be offered to those who were not vaccinated,” he said.

    Earlier, PGH Director Dr. Gerardo Legaspi said their pre-registration activities netted a 94 percent registration or willingness to be vaccinated among their personnel. At that time, the country was expecting the arrival of 117,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines from the COVAX Facility, a global vaccine-sharing initiative co-led by the World Health Organization.

    Pfizer and the UK’s AstraZeneca were granted emergency use authorizations (EUAs) by the Food and Drug Administration last month. Sinovac obtained and EUA last week.

    The FDA said the Sinovac vaccine has an efficacy rate of 65.3 percent to 91.2 percent for healthy individuals aged 18 to 59 years old. FDA chief Eric Domingo said tests in Brazil showed it is has lower efficacy rate of 50.4 percent for healthcare workers constantly exposed to COVID-19 patients, and “is not recommended” for this group.

    The group PGH Physicians’ Association said the Sinovac vaccine must be evaluated by the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC), and asked the PGH community to demand a “safe and efficacious COVID-19 vaccine for all.”

    Vice President Leni Robredo backed the medical professionals who are protesting the use of the Sinovac vaccine, saying it should not be given special treatment and should be made to undergo stringent processes like AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

    Robredo said the PGH workers and the Healthcare Professionals Alliance against COVID-19 are not against the CoronaVac because it is China-made but because it has yet to be subjected to further tests that would ensure its safety and efficacy.

    She said Sinovac still needs a positive recommendation from the HTAC under the universal healthcare law, despite the EUA.

    An HTAC official on Friday said based on information from legal service of Department of Health, the Sinovac vaccines, “for now,” do not require its assessment “because these are donations, and they are not procured using government funds.”

    The HTAC is an independent advisory body which reviews the cost, ethics, and community impact of drugs that will be introduced to the public. It is mandated to conduct technology appraisal of drugs.

    Robredo noted that PGH workers who told an earlier survey they were willing to be vaccinated said they did so on the premise that the vaccine to be used will be the one from Pfizer.

    She said that Unlike the EUA which is just based on the documents submitted to the FDA by the vaccine-maker, a recommendation by the HTAC can only be secured after a through study which goes beyond the information provided by Sinovac.

    “Hindi naman sinasabing masama iyong Sinovac or whatever. Pero ang sinasabi lang, mag-go through naman sana sa proseso, para siguradong protected tayo. ‘Di ba? Siguradong protected tayo. Kung ano iyong ni-require natin from Pfizer and AstraZeneca, ganoon din sana sa Sinovac, kahit pa donated ito (We’re not saying that Sinovac is bad or whatever.

    What’s being said is for it to go through the process to ensure that we’re all protected, right? Ensure that we’re all protected. So whatever requirements we have for Pfizer and AstraZeneca should be the same for Sinovac even if it’s just donated),” Robredo said.

    After securing the HTAC’s recommendation, she said, Sinovac will go through the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) and the Department of Health for procurement, distribution and deployment of the vaccines. – With Wendell Vigilia