Experts OK Sinovac use for health workers
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said at a press briefing that experts have reviewed data and guidelines and concluded that “the vaccines will be beneficial for the HCWs.”
AFP/Dibyangshu Sarkar

Experts OK Sinovac use for health workers

Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - February 27, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Despite earlier concerns over its efficacy, the COVID-19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac has been approved for use on health care workers (HCWs), the government’s immunization experts announced yesterday.

The National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG)’s decision, made after deliberations, was approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said at a press briefing that experts have reviewed data and guidelines and concluded that “the vaccines will be beneficial for the HCWs.”

She said the Department of Health and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as other experts, “concur that current available evidence is enough to establish that the vaccine is safe for use.”

The official clarified that the NITAG decision does not overturn the earlier recommendation of FDA not to use the vaccines on HCWs handling COVID-19 patients.

“We want to emphasize that the provision on use for HCWs attending to COVID-19 patients included in the emergency use authorization granted for Sinovac is not a contraindication, nor a recommendation borne of concern over the vaccine’s safety,” she added.

Vergeire said the “prime consideration” of FDA in making the recommendation is the vaccine’s reduced efficacy for those with high exposure to the virus.

However, she maintained that clinical trial data still show that the vaccine is 50 percent effective in preventing mild symptoms and 100 percent effective against moderate to severe symptoms.

The same data also show it is effective in reducing morbidity and mortality.

“Given this evidence, the NITAG has deemed it sufficient to recommend the use of the vaccine for HCWs as it bears to reiterate that our goal for prioritizing health care workers for vaccination is to reduce morbidity and mortality among their group while they maintain the most critical essential health services,” the official said.

Vergeire added that the EUA and FDA have established the “safety and efficacy of  Sinovac.”

Aside from this, the experts have ruled that Sinovac’s 100 percent efficacy rate in preventing moderate and severe cases is “indeed sufficient to meet the goal of reducing deaths – protections which we want to afford first and foremost to our health care workers.”

According to Dr. Nina Castillo Carandang, NITAG member and health social scientist from UP Manila’s Department of Clinical Epidemiology, Sinovac vaccination remains voluntary.

“We’d like to give the right of first refusal after ‘informed choice’ to our HCWs because they deserve it… We want to preserve the line of priority for HCWs because they deserve it,” she said.

“It is not mandatory for them to accept the vaccines… If they are hesitant to accept this vaccine, then they can wait for the next vaccine available but we don’t know when that would be,” she added.

Malacañang, meanwhile, welcomed the IATF recommendation. “The Palace welcomes the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force to use Sinovac for health care workers,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said yesterday.

As the government starts its vaccination with Sinovac, Roque is optimistic that the initial rollout would build public confidence in the vaccine against COVID-19.

“We are confident that many of our health care workers would get themselves inoculated to boost public confidence in our mass vaccination program against the coronavirus,” he said.

According to the national vaccination plan, the health care workers in COVID-19 referral hospitals are in the priority list. These hospitals are Philippine General Hospital in Manila, East Avenue Medical Center and Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City, and Dr. Jose Rodriguez formerly Tala Hospital in Caloocan City.

“The Palace supports the Inter-Agency Task Force decision to continue prioritizing the vaccination of health care workers,” Roque added.

Although some government officials have reiterated that the Sinovac vaccine’s high efficiency rate has been established in clinical trials, the FDA has declared it is not recommending CoronaVac for health care workers due to the diminished efficacy rate since they are more exposed to the virus.

“As we have said in many occasions, health care workers are the most critical frontliners in our fight against COVID-19 and they remain at the top of our priority list for vaccination,” Roque said.

Roque said the NITAG and DOH’s decision “is an assurance that the use of Sinovac is safe and beneficial to our health care workers.” – Christina Mendez

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