Senators question gov’t for pushing Sinovac vaccine despite its low efficacy rate

Published January 15, 2021, 8:13 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Friday reminded the National Task Force for COVID-19 that the public has the right to information regarding the vaccines that would be procured by the government to combat the pandemic.

Senator Franklin Drilon (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

He stated this position as senators expressed their frustration at the chief implementers of the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program for insisting on using China-made coronavirus vaccine Sinovac despite its reported low efficacy rate and the lack of publication about the results of its clinical trials.

Addressing vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., Drilon warned that the only way the government can address Filipinos’ hesitancy to get vaccinated against the coronavirus is to be more upfront about the process and disclose details about the vaccines.

“Secretary Galvez, the only way to overcome this reluctance is to provide more information to our people. And that is where, I think, the senators are coming from. We need the information so that we can tell our people that indeed this is the right thing to do,” Drilon said during the Senate Committee of the Whole’s inquiry into the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program.

“We cannot project that unless we give them the right information and again, I would repeat, one out of two Filipinos would not want to be vaccinated. Can you imagine the situation if that persists, what shall we do? We have half of our population (as) carriers (of the coronavirus)? So what kind of vaccination program would succeed? That’s one,” Drilon further pointed out.

“Secondly, from a strictly constitutional and legal viewpoint, the right to information is a matter of concern that is recognized under our Constitution. The right of the people to information of public concern shall be recognized,” he said.

“And therefore, I hope you do not attribute politics to the questions being raised here because precisely this is what we need – information as a matter of right of our people, as a matter of building confidence, because you cannot impose confidence. You must earn it, Mr. Secretary,” Drilon said.

Earlier during the hearing, Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson complained that Galvez has virtually accused the Senate of “demonizing” vaccine developers or “hurting” the ongoing negotiations of the government with vaccine manufacturers and suppliers, apparently referring to Sinovac.

“After all, I am certain that everyone in this hall and those attending online will agree that our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is not a single man’s business,” Lacson emphasized.

“It is a matter of record that Congress wasted no time in passing legislative measures and appropriations to quickly respond and address the current health crisis. In fact, Mr. President, for the national government’s vaccination program alone, which currently stands at P87.5 billion speaks volumes of the legislature’s resolve and commitment to our nation’s common cause,” the lawmaker added.

During the course of the hearing, Galvez said that the Sinovac deal is not yet a “done deal” and the government can still backpedal from the negotiations if the government’s vaccine expert panel (VEP) does not recommend its use and if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not approve an emergency use authority (EUA) on the China-made vaccine.

But Galvez later admitted that the government has already signed a term sheet with Sinovac “so that we can already lock in 25 million doses that have been promised.” He also said Sinovac, he has already committed an initial 50,000 doses.

Asked by Drilon if the government is still committed to buy from Sinovac, Galvez replied: “We are still negotiating, sir.”

At this point, Senate President Vicente Sotto III questioned Galvez why he had earlier said during the initial hearing that they will deliver the said vaccines on Feb. 20. Galvez responded that it was a merely an “indicative plan” that they will deliver.

“That’s why we asked them to really follow up on their clinical trial result from Brazil, Turkey, and Indonesia. So that’s the requirement that we are asking them to produce so that the VEP and our FDA can analyze those data,” Galvez said.

Drilon, however, pointed out that no matured drug regulatory agencies, like the United States, had approved an EUA for Sinovac vaccines. Sinovac, so far, only has an EUA from China and Argentina, and now from Indonesia, but none of them are stringent regulatory agencies.

“So having said that, the issue I assume is that we have to verify whether or not the safety of this vaccine… it is a matter that we have to address sufficiently. The safety and efficacy issue has not been fully addressed in so far as our local jurisdiction is concerned,” Drilon said.

Galvez, however, said the decision to choose Sinovac as part of the vaccine line-up of the government is because China’s economy is now booming again.