BY RAYMOND AFRICA and JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR
SEN. Panfilo Lacson yesterday asked the national government to explain its apparent preference of the COVID-19 vaccine made by China’s Sinovac Biotech over other available vaccines when it is expensive and was reported to be less effective.
Lacson made the statement after Malacañang said that Sinovac is the only available vaccine until June.
He said Sinovac, a privately-owned Chinese company whose product›s efficacy is at 50-70 percent, “appears to have the edge” even over China›s state-owned Sinopharm whose vaccine has a 79-86 percent efficacy and is used in the United Arab Emirates. Sinovac, maker of CoronaVac, is also the second most expensive vaccine at P3,629 per two doses, he said.
«Can somebody explain why preference is given to the second most expensive vaccine, has lower efficacy, a record of suspended clinical trials and has not even applied for EUA (emergency use authorization) over other vaccines that cost much less, are more efficacious and are about to be granted their emergency use authorization?» Lacson asked on Twitter.
«That said, the national government should expedite the procurement of all qualified and available vaccines. To borrow Secretary Harry Roque Jr.›s words, it should not be choosy in buying vaccines,» he added.
Lacson pointed out that Sinovac’s vaccine has a five-month headway over other brands, from February to June, even without applying for an EUA, and even as the Food and Drug Administration said this is due to the suspension of clinical trials in another jurisdiction.
Lacson said what is even worse is that Sinovac has a record of suspended clinical trials, and has not applied for an EUA, unlike the US firm Pfizer Inc and UK’s AstraZeneca.
Lacson noted that in Monday›s Senate Committee of the Whole hearing, officials seemed prepared with justifications for favoring Sinovac, including “taking different pathways,” “the Philippines may be at the tail-end of the supply chain,” and even saying they «will advise Sinovac to apply for EUA” after being asked why government had concluded a deal with it even without the EUA.
«Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr.›s reply that they will advise Sinovac to apply for an EUA – after concluding a contract with it – only made it obvious that Sinovac is really the chosen one,» he said.
Lacson said that instead making the people feel that they are at the mercy of the government in the choice of vaccines, it is logical for the national government to kickstart its vaccination program with the highest efficacy vaccines in order to build the people’s confidence in mass inoculation.
“Cockiness has no place in a pandemic situation. Certainly, this is not a smart information campaign to promote mass vaccination,” Lacson added.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez reassured the public that Sinovac and all other vaccines that the government would approve for use and distribution in the country would be safe and effective.
In the case of Sinovac, he said the government chose it because it is more affordable compared to other vaccines; it has been approved and now being used in other countries including those that are more modern than the Philippines like Singapore, Turkey, Argentina, Malaysia, Brazil, and Egypt; it is stable and can be stored in available cold chain facilities in the country, among others.
“Pare-pareho naman po ito. Dapat po sana… tanggalin na po natin iyong discrimination sa ibang vaccine kasi nakita po natin ginamit na nga ng Singapore, ginamit na nga ng Malaysia, ginamit na ng Turkey at ng Argentina, bakit hindi natin gamitin? Eh mga advance country pa ito kaysa sa atin (These are all the same… we should… end the discrimination against some vaccines because as we can see, it is now being used in Singapore, it is now being used in Malaysia, it is being used in Turkey and in Argentina, why would we not use it? These countries are more advanced than us),” he said.
Galvez denied the claims of some lawmakers that Sinovac is more expensive than other vaccines saying that it is in the middle range and is priced closely those of Novavax and Gamaleya.
He said another reason for choosing Sinovac is that it is safe for the elderly and those with existing health conditions. It is for this reason that Sinovac may be given to elderly sector in the country.
It is still uncertain if President Duterte, who is already 75 years old, would agree to be vaccinated using Sinovac or Gamaleya’s Sputnik V.
Galvez said he is willing to be vaccinated in public using Sinovac, if he qualifies for the priority list.
‘CANCEL SINOVAC PURCHASE’
Sen. Francis Pangilinan urged the Department of Health to reconsider its order to purchase Sinovac vaccines, pointing to a study in Brazil that showed it only has a 50.4 percent efficacy rate.
«Sinovac, with just over 50 percent efficacy, is six times more expensive than AstraZeneca, which in contrast shows a 70 percent efficacy. Sinovac is more expensive yet it has the lowest efficacy. Given these latest findings, we call on the DOH to cancel the purchase of said vaccines,» Pangilinan said in a tweet.
«Why will we pay for a more expensive vaccine that has lowest efficacy?» he added.
According to reports, the Brazil trial results were barely enough for regulatory approval and well below the 78 percent efficacy rate announced last week.
During the Monday hearing, Pangilinan said the country should procure vaccines on the bases of both higher efficacy and lower cost.
The efficacy rate for the other vaccines are: Moderna 95 percent, Pfizer and BioNTech 95 percent, Gamaleya 92 percent, and AstraZeneca 70 percent.
The efficacy rate measures the reduction in the risk rate of infection of the individual inoculated with the vaccine, not the entire population.
According to data shared during the interpellation on the bicameral report on the 2021 national budget, the cost of Sinovac is P3,629.50, Moderna at P3,904-P4,504, Pfizer P2,379, Gamaleya P1,220, via Covax facility P854, AstraZeneca P610, and Novavax P366.
The Philippines has secured 25 million doses from China›s Sinovac Biotech, with the first 50,000 expected to arrive in February. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the rest of the Sinovac vaccines will arrive in batches from March until December and that Filipinos will not be able to choose their vaccine.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said senators will insist that the national government allow local government units (LGUs) and the private sector to procure their own preferred vaccines when the Senate Committee of the Whole conducts its second hearing on the government’s vaccination program tomorrow.
“That will be pursued on Friday, to allow LGUs [and the private sector] from procuring kasi sabi nga ng iba, bilib sila sa ganitong vaccine, yung iba hindi bilib (because people prefer different vaccines) So we will insist on Friday. Hopefully the FDA, IATF, and DOH or the vaccine czar would be able to give us a solution to the issue,” Sotto said at the weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay media forum.
Galvez said the country expects a “mini-rollout” of vaccines from Pfizer under the COVAX Facility – a global risk-sharing mechanism for pooled procurement and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines — and from Sinovac towards the end of February.
An initial 50,000 doses of Sinovac is expected next month, 950,000 doses in March, a million doses each in April and May, to be followed by batches of two million to three million until 25 million dosages are delivered.
Galvez said the Philippines needs to submit until January 18 more documents to Pfizer and COVAX-Gavi to kick off the rollout for 40 million vaccines or two doses for 20 million Filipinos in February. He said representatives from Pfizer and COVAX-Gavi will inspect the facilities in the country from January 19 to 29 to determine if it is ready to receive and store the vaccines until its use.
He said there is also a possibility that the vaccines from Russia’s Gamaleya will be rolled out in February if the country’s panel of experts approves the requirements submitted by the Russian firm. Its efficacy is also being reviewed.
Vaccines from AstraZeneca might be delivered towards the end of the first quarter of 2021 if the British company agrees.
He said three vaccines are expected to arrive first — those from Pfizer, Sinovac, and AstraZeneca. Vaccines from Gamaleya will also be available next month, he said.
He said if the country’s evaluators and regulators will approve, Gamaleya will provide 50 million to 100 million doses. Russia also has plans to put up a factory in the country for the manufacturing and distribution of the vaccine, he said.
Galvez also said the national government, local government units will sign a deal today with AstraZeneca for 20 million doses.
Presidential Adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion said the private sector which involves more than 200 private companies, will be signing with the national government and AstraZeneca for a second batch of vaccines, which will raise the total purchase to 6 million doses. he private sector secured late last year an agreement for 2.6 million doses.
The vaccines from AstraZeneca are due in the third quarter of the year but Galvez said talks are ongoing for the possible fast-tracking of the delivery within the first quarter of the year.
Galvez said the country has secured 148 million to 180 million doses of vaccines which would cover more than 70 million to 80 million of the population. The vaccines would come from seven companies namely — AstraZeneca, Pfizer, India’s Novavax-Serum Institute of India, Russia’s Gamaleya, US’ Moderna, Sinovac and US-Belgium’s Johnson and Johnson.
The other day presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the public’s option is limited to Sinovac until June as the other vaccines would be available only in the third to fourth quarter of the year. Those who would refuse to accept Sinovac must issue a waiver that they declined the vaccine and have to wait until all other individuals have already been vaccinated before they are offered the vaccine again.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the DOH has formed the National Adverse Effect Following Immunization Committee which will monitor the effects of the vaccines. – With Gerard Naval