Yesterday, on February 26, 2021, frontliners belonging to the All UP Workers Union-Manila and Philippine General Hospital (PGH) protested the rollout of the Sinovac vaccine to medical and healthcare professionals. They argued that they "deserve the best COVID-19 vaccine" and had been expecting to receive the vaccine of Pfizer and BioNTech, which has been found to be more effective.
Today, February 27, the Philippine General Hospital Physicians' Association (PGH PA) issued a statement regarding the matter. They shared that the hospital-wide vaccination program was met with "willingness" by its health workers and employees, but that was because they were under the impression that the vaccine to be administered to them "has undergone the proper evaluation process by FDA [Food and Drug Administration], HTAC [Health Technology Assessment Council], and NITAG [National Immunization Technical Advisory Group]."
The problem is that as of now, the FDA only recommends Sinovac, a China-made COVID-19 vaccine, for "clinically healthy" people aged 18 to 59 years old. It is not recommended for healthcare workers exposed to COVID-19. Sinovac's efficacy rating, according to the FDA, is 50.4 percent when it was tested in Brazil. This means it is not suitable for medical frontliners. PGH PA writes that the Sinovac vaccination of medical professionals "was met by a sweeping disapproval rate of 95 [percent]" when they conducted an internal survey.
Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine, which is what PGH expects for its frontliners, has a 95 percent efficacy rating.
In their statement, PGH PA also stresses the importance of the proper rollout of the vaccines. "As the national university hospital, PGH should set an example on how vaccination rollout should be executed in the country. PGH should uphold the ideals of ethical and evidence-based medicine, for which it has been a bastion of."
Does this mean Sinovac is not a safe vaccine?
Malacañang and the Department of Health reiterated yesterday that the Sinovac vaccine is safe. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergerie stated that the clinical trial data from Sinovac showed that the vaccine was "50 percent effective in preventing mild symptoms and 100 percent effective against moderate to severe symptoms."
But people must keep in mind that it is only safe for those who are "clinically healthy," aged 18 to 59 years old, and not medical frontliners.
According to some doctors, a vaccine that works is still very useful for the average person, even if it doesn’t have the 90-plus percent efficacy rating. Initially, for the COVID-19 vaccine, researchers were hoping for efficacies between 60 and 70 percent only, and seasonal flu vaccines get to be administered when they are just 40 to 60 percent effective.
The point is, highlights The Verge, that the vaccine "is better than zero, which is where a lot of us are operating right now."
The vaccine from Sinovac will be the first to be shipped legally into the country. According to Inquirer.net, the Chinese government is scheduled to deliver its donation of 600,000 doses tomorrow, February 28.