The Philippines’ first batch of COVID-19 vaccines from China’s Sinovac Biotech is scheduled to arrive today, giving the country’s fight against the pandemic a dose of hope.
Around 600,000 doses of vaccines developed by Sinovac Biotech will be delivered to Manila with
President Duterte and some Cabinet members ready to welcome the cargo at the airport.
The arrival of the Sinovac vaccines, donated by the government of
China, comes as the pandemic has infected more than half a million people and severely weakened the local economy.
“Excited na kami dahil bukas darating na ang bakuna. Personal na sasalubungin ni Presidente (We are excited because the vaccines will arrive Sunday. The President will personally welcome the vaccine arrival),” Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said over state television Saturday, Feb. 27.
The turnover of the vaccines is set for 5 p.m. Sunday at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.
With the arrival of the 600,000 donated vaccines, the national gov- ernment is also expected to kick off its inoculation program this week.
Roque said the vaccine rollout can begin by Monday, March 1.
“All we need is one day and then we will roll out. So, if it arrives on Sunday, if I am not mistaken, then we can roll out on Monday, dahil excited na excited na po ang maraming kababayan natin (because many of our countrymen are really excited),” Roque said in a press conference Thursday, Feb. 26.
The government said it aims to vaccinate up to 70 million or two- thirds of the population this year to help attain herd immunity. Among the priority beneficiaries are frontline health workers, senior citizens, economic frontliners, and poor and vulnerable citizens.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila said it hopes that the arrival of the first batch of vaccines will help the Philippines “curb the pandemic and allow Filipinos’ life to return to normal at the earliest.”
Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian had earlier said the donated vaccine doses to the Philippines are part of the friendship and partnership between the two countries. “It is a fine tradition between China and the Philippines to help each other in trying times. A friend in need is a friend indeed,” he said.
‘Sinovac use in PH’
Sinovac’s CoronaVac was issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Feb. 22.
It is the third vaccine to be granted an EUA in the Philippines after Pfizer’s Comirnaty and AstraZeneca’s AZD1222.
The FDA said the vaccine is recommended to be administered only to healthy individuals 18 to 59 years old, but not to senior citizens and medical frontliners, stating that it’s “not the best vaccine” for the said group of people.
FDA said local clinical trial data showed that the vaccine has an efficacy rate of 65.3 to 91.2 percent when used on clinically healthy individuals aged 18 to 59, however, it has a lower efficacy rate of only 50.4 percent on healthcare workers.
The Department of Health (DOH) and the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG), however, recommended the use of Sinovac for healthcare workers.
“The DOH, FDA, and our panel of experts concur that the current available evidence is enough to establish that the vaccine is safe for use,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a press briefing Friday, Feb. 26.
Roque said the country’s health workers may decline the Sinovac vaccine and wait for their preferred brand of the preventive drug. He said these health workers would not lose their priority status if they reject the first available drug.
‘Other countries using Sinovac’
Aside from the Philippines, two other Southeast Asian (SEA) countries also received their first batch of COVID-19 jabs from China’s Sinovac, namely Indonesia and Thailand.
Indonesia – the first country to give Sinovac’s CoronaVac an emergency use approval (EUA) outside China – received their jabs on Dec. 3, and kicked off their inoculation program last Jan. 13, with President Joko Widodo getting the first jab.
Thailand, meanwhile, got their Sinovac vaccines delivered on Feb. 24.
Like the Philippines, Thailand is also eyeing to roll out its Sinovac jabs by March 1.
Outside Asia, countries like Turkey, Chile, and Azerbaijan had already started inoculating its citizens with CoronaVac.
‘Safety and effectivity’
Countries that conducted clinical trials for Sinovac’s CoronaVac like Brazil, Indonesia, and Turkey yielded different results in terms of the vaccine’s efficacy.
Researches in Brazil said the vaccine has 50.4 percent efficacy against “mild-to-severe” cases.
In Indonesia, experts said the vaccine had 65.3 percent efficacy, while trials in Turkey showed CoronaVac to be 91.25 percent effective.
As for possible side effects, a Sinovac official said persons who have gotten the jab usually feel muscle pain afterward.
In a press briefing on Wednesday, Feb. 24, Sinovac Hong Kong general manager Helen Yang assured the Filipino public that CoronaVac has no “fatal” side effect.
The World Health Organization said in its “Types of vaccine and adverse reactions” module said inactivated vaccine-like CoronaVac “may not always induce an immune response and the response may not be long-lived.”
“Several doses of inactivated whole-cell vaccines may be required to evoke a sufficient immune response,” it added.