AT least 600,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Sinovac Biotech, a private Chinese firm, will arrive in the country on February 23, and 100,000 of these will be administered to soldiers, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said yesterday.
Roque said the vaccines are donated by China, including the 100,000 doses for soldiers.
China, through State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi who visited the country in January, committed to donate 500,000 doses.
The uniformed personnel, and their families, were supposed to be fourth in line among vaccine priority recipients under government’s vaccination program.
Roque said the vaccines would not be administered without the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
So far, only shots developed by AstraZeneca and the vaccine of Pfizer and BioNTech have been approved for emergency use in the country.
Roque said regulators have allowed “compassionate use” of 10,000 doses of a vaccine developed by China’s Sinopharm for the Presidential Security Group, President Duterte’s close-in security detail.
Roque could not say how the PSG would acquire or buy the vaccine, how or why Sinopharm was chosen, and other details.
“All that I know is that PSG applied and was granted compassionate use for 10,000 dosage,” he said.
The compassionate special permit allows the PSG to acquire and use vaccines that are still unregistered.
It was reported in December last year that the several PSG members have been inoculated with Sinopharm vaccines despite the absence of an emergency use authorization.
The PSG has said they opted to be vaccinated even with an unregistered vaccine as part of efforts to ensure the safety and security of the President.
FDA Director General Eric Domingo said the PSG applied last month for compassionate special permit (CSP) and has complied with requirements.
“They first applied on January 18, and they recently completed all requirements. It was granted yesterday,” said Domingo.
The CSP grants an entity the privilege to avail itself of an unregistered drug, medical device, or food product.
Domingo said the CSP does not apply retroactively.
“The CSP is for future use and the permit is for one-time importation,” he said.
Last month, Domingo told President Duterte a CSP can be issued for the use of the vaccines for emergency purposes for a small group of individuals, such as the PSG.
The country aims to start its mass vaccination program using 117,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine secured through the COVAX international vaccine-sharing facility, which are also due to be delivered this month.
The government has negotiated supply agreements with Moderna, Gamaleya, Janssen, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sinovac, Novavax for 148 million doses of coronavirus vaccines, the bulk of which are is expected to arrive in the second and third quarters of this year.
It is aiming this year to inoculate 70 million adults, or two-thirds of the country’s 108 million people, to achieve herd immunity.
Roque said the government expects the arrival of the 117,000 doses from COVAX this month.
Apart from Pfizer, the country is expecting at least 5.2 million doses of vaccine from AstraZeneca also under COVAX. Pfizer and AstraZeneca have already been issued emergency use authorizations (EUAs).
Roque said the first batch of Pfizer vaccines will come from Belgium, where it is being manufactured, and be shipped to London then transferred to Manila.
He said with the delay of the vaccines from COVAX, medical workers and hospital frontliners from the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (PGH) are likely to receive Sinovac.
Under the government program, the first batch of vaccines would first be administered to the medical and hospital workers, starting with those detailed in the COVID-19 referral hospitals.
The Philippine Society of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (PSAAI) reminded vaccinators to be on guard for anaphylaxis and other allergic reactions from vaccine recipients.
“Anaphylaxis is the only contraindication for some COVID-19 vaccines and healthcare practitioners, who will be vaccinating against COVID-19, should be sufficiently trained to properly recognize and manage anaphylaxis,” Dr. Rommel Lobo, PSAAI president and member of the National Adverse Event Following Immunization Committee.
“While the risk of anaphylaxis is rare, it should be recognized and managed promptly with epinephrine,” he also said.
Aside from allergic reactions, the vaccinators must also watch for “reactogenic reactions” like pain, tenderness, and swelling.
“These can be managed with supportive care,” Lobo said. — With Gerard Naval and Reuters