The Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech Ltd. will be the first to ship a coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) vaccine to the Philippines. In a virtual press briefing on Thursday, Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said 600,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, including the 100,000 it donated to the Department of National Defense (DND), would arrive on February 23.
Another early vaccine shipment, coming from the Covax Facility, was also expected within days, Roque said, without giving an exact date.
The Philippines has secured 25 million doses from Sinovac although it has not applied for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Sinovac has been criticized for having a lower efficacy rate than the vaccines developed by American companies Pfizer and Moderna and British drugmaker AstraZeneca.
The efficacy rate of Sinovac varied from 50 percent, 65 percent and 91 percent in human trials in Brazil, Indonesia and Turkey.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier defended the government's seeming preference for China-made Covid-19 vaccines, insisting they were as good as those produced by western countries.
The government plans to vaccinate 50 to 70 million Filipinos this year.
National Action Plan Against Covid-19 deputy chief implementer Vivencio Dizon said on Thursday the shipment of 117,000 doses of Pfizer's vaccine through the Covax Facility would be delayed.
Covax is a global effort initiated by the World Health Organization to provide free vaccines to countries that are financially pressed, including the Philippines. The facility itself has run into funding problems and was forced to reduce the doses it had promised.
The government expects 117,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine to arrive by mid-February.
Roque had said that once the Pfizer vaccine arrived, the country could launch its nationwide inoculation by February 15.
Despite the delays, Dizon said the government was confident the initial doses from Pfizer through the Covax facility would arrive within the month.
He also expressed confidence the country would receive over a million doses through Covax and vaccine manufacturers this year.
Roque said the FDA approved the application of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) for a "compassionate use license" for 10,000 doses.
The special permit will enable members of the PSG to skip the government's Covid-19 priority list.
Soldiers and police officers are fourth in line for a vaccine shot, based on the list.
"The PSG Hospital takes full responsibility for the vaccines and will report utilization and outcomes to FDA," Domingo said.
The Department of Health (DoH) said the compassionate use permit was for future utilization of the vaccine and cannot be applied retroactively
"For future use and the permit is for one time importation. They first applied on January 18 and they recently completed all requirements," the DoH said in a statement.
The PSG was in the spotlight in January after it was revealed that several of its members and some Cabinet officials have already been inoculated.
Roque also said President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to be inoculated with the Sinovac vaccine.
Only the vaccines from Pfizer BioNTech and AstraZeneca have been given an EUA.
The country's group of immunologists and allergy doctors has assured the public that while the Covid-19 vaccines can cause some adverse reactions, these will be mild and manageable.
In a press conference Thursday, Dr. Maria Carmen Ang of the Philippine Society of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (Psaai) said that reactions might occur because the vaccines that use messenger ribonucleic acid or MRNA as base material were designed to stimulate the immune system.
"Reactogenic reactions are not the same as allergic reactions… these reactions are mild to moderate and are usually gone within the first three days," Ang said.
The reactions include pain or swelling at the injection site, headache, muscle pain, body aches, tiredness, fever and chills, and vomiting.
Ang said the reactions can be managed with pain relievers and analgesics like paracetamol as well as by hydration and cold compression.
She added that severe allergic reactions to vaccines are rare, with only five cases out of 1 million people who took the Pfizer and BioNTech tozinameran vaccine.
Ang said the vaccines can be taken by patients who have allergies ranging from food, inhalants such as dust mites or pollens and insect venom, as well as those who are experiencing eczema, allergic asthma, allergic rhinitis, hives, or history of rashes to oral medicines.
Asthmatics should have their asthma well controlled and be on maintenance inhalers to be able to get inoculated without any problems.
"Those who are uncontrolled asthmatics should seek consultations with their attending physicians," Ang said.
She advised patients with a depressed immune system or auto-immune diseases to consult first with their doctor before getting immunized.
Dr. Rommel Crisenio Lobo, Psaai president, said the group has started training those who will administer the vaccine in spotting possible anaphylactic reactions.
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