DOST: Despite 50% effectivity, PH still can't use Sinovac sans full data

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 24) — The COVID-19 vaccine of China's Sinovac Biotech may be deemed "acceptable" to minimum global standards, but the Philippines still needs to review the full data on its effectivity before it can be used, an official of the Department of Science and Technology stressed on Thursday.

Citing the World Health Organization, Jaime Montoya, executive director of the DOST-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, said that a 50% vaccine efficacy serves as the minimum requirement against coronavirus, but authorities in the country should not treat the data as final.

"The 50% efficacy is acceptable because that is the minimum requirement set by the WHO for a vaccine to be used by a country," Montoya said during the Laging Handa briefing.

"[But] we also have to bear in mind that the vaccine efficacy may actually change, it may go up or down as more people are using it when they are actually rolled out," he added.

This comes after Brazilian researchers reported that Sinovac is over 50% effective based on the country's recent trial data. However, full results of the trial have yet to be released, amid questions on transparency.

Montoya noted that the Philippines still cannot use Sinovac until it gets a final approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

"Not at this point, kasi hindi pa natin nakukuha iyong data," he pointed out. "It has to be reviewed by the FDA. We still have to verify those data. Until such time na na-review natin ang data, we cannot make any conclusion."

[Translation: Not at this point, because we still don't have the data. It has to be reviewed by the FDA. We still have to verify those data. Until such time that we reviewed the data, we cannot make any conclusion.]

He also said that authorities will have to test whether a 50% rate would be more effective in specific priority groups than others. The country intends to prioritize health workers and senior citizens over other groups for inoculation once a vaccine becomes available.

Tony Leachon, a former adviser of the National Task Force Against COVID-19 and now a known critic of the government's vaccine initiatives, called for a transparent disclosure of selection guidelines in the country. He also questioned why the Philippines would settle for a 50% efficacy rate if other vaccine developers have exhibited higher results so far.

"If Pfizer and Moderna boast of 95% efficacy rate and AstraZeneca has 70%, why would Philippines settle for Sinovac 50% efficacy rate and much more expensive than Pfizer and Astra?" he asked.

"We tolerate mediocrity," Leachon added. "If other countries would like to have world class vaccines with 95% efficacy rate, why can't we? If we allow it, then we set up ourselves to have mediocre immune response."


Some lawmakers held the same view as Leachon.

“Why settle for this 'pasang-awa' kind of vaccine when we can get more efficient ones at a lower price?" Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said in a statement on Saturday.

He said a Senate hearing earlier revealed that Sinovac's vaccine is more expensive than that of other developers with higher efficacy rates like Pfizer and AstraZeneca. Two shots of Sinovac’s vaccine cost P3,629.50. Meanwhile, two doses of Pfizer's vaccine are priced at P2,379 while AstraZeneca's vaccine only costs P610 for two doses. 

For her part, Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas asked, "Bakit tila may pa-aguinaldo ang Tsina kaya nagpupumilit ang gobyerno sa bakunang mahal pero nangangalahati lang ang pagiging epektibo?"

[Translation: Why does it seem that China has just handed a Christmas present, the reason why the government is insisting on a costly vaccine even if it’s just 50% effective?]

In a statement, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri said the plan to procure a vaccine with lower efficacy rates than other drug makers is "totally unacceptable and a total waste of our funds and resources."

According to Montoya, the Philippines will likely secure doses from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Inc. by second quarter of 2021 when negotiations go smoothly. Vaccines produced by these developers have already been authorized for emergency use abroad.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque previously defended the government's eagerness to secure 25 million doses of Sinovac, noting that they are the only ones who could provide supply "at the soonest possible time."

READ: Roque on Sinovac preference: It's the only choice for now 

Sinovac has yet to disclose results of its phase 3 clinical trials, although Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana earlier said it has already been administered to a million people in the mainland, including members of the Chinese army.

CNN Philippines Correspondents Triciah Terada and Carolyn Bonquin contributed to this report.