Robredo not opposed to Sinovac, but questions exemption from HTAC

Published March 3, 2021, 9:25 PM

by Raymund Antonio

Vice President Leni Robredo said on Wednesday that she is not opposed to China’s Sinovac vaccine for COVID-19, but stressed that it should not be exempted from getting a positive recommendation from the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC).

Vice President Leni Robredo

The council assesses the cost, ethics, and community impact of the drugs or vaccines that will be given to the public.

“Wala akong opposition against Sinovac. Hindi ito dahil ginawa ito sa China, o dahil 50 percent [lang ang efficacy rate]. May medical experts naman na nagrereview. Kung sabihin nila na okay, good enough ‘yun para sa akin. Pero huwag naman i-short cut ang proseso (I am not opposed against Sinovac. This is not because it is from China or because it has only a 50-percent [efficacy rate]. Medical experts are reviewing it. If they said that it’s okay, that’s good enough for me. But the process should not be cut short),” Robredo said on The Mangahas Interviews.

The vice president questioned why Sinovac couldn’t go through the same process as Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca, which both got a positive recommendation from HTAC.

“Pero the mere fact na ine-exempt siya tapos iyong iba hindi naman ine-exempt, iyon ‘yung mali (The mere fact that it is exempted and the others are not exempted, that’s what’s wrong),” Robredo stressed.

Under the law, a drug or vaccine must get an approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), receive a positive recommendation from HTAC, and follow the guidelines by the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) and the Department of Health (DOH) before finally being distributed by local government units.

This is the same demand made by a group of health workers from the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) a few days before Sinovac arrived on February 28.

Although Sinovac’s vaccine received an emergency use authorization from the FDA, the agency did not recommend it for use on health workers with high exposure to the disease.

But the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) approved its use for health workers based on the recommendation by NITAG and DOH’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG).

This despite the lack of a positive recommendation from HTAC.

Robredo recognized the importance of rolling out the vaccines especially to health workers, but she also emphasized that the recommendation is an “added layer of protection” at a time when confidence in the vaccine seems to be low.

While government officials said that the HTAC recommendation is not mandatory because the first batch of Sinovac doses was a donation, Robredo questioned the wisdom in skipping a step in the process.

“Kahit pa donated yan at kahit wala tayong gastusin, obligasyon natin na bigyan ng added layer of protection ang ating mga kababayan (Even if it’s donated and we did not spend, we are obligated to give our fellowmen an added layer of protection).”

“Bakit pa ginawa ang HTAC kung hindi bibigyang respeto, hindi susundin ang kanyang mandate? Kung ngayong linggo, bigyan siya (Sinovac) ng positive recommendation ng HTAC, wala na tayong masasabi (Why was HTAC created if it will not be respected, if its mandate will not be followed? If this week, HTAC will give a positive recommendation to Sinovac, I won’t say anything anymore),” she said.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said that Sinovac is already under HTAC review, but not before the department inoculated several health care workers and government officials since March 1.

The Health department plans to procure Sinovac doses this month using the agency’s savings.