Senators say FDA advice vs. Sinovac use on some priority sectors raises more questions on emergency approval

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 22) — Senators are questioning the emergency use authorization granted to China's Sinovac vaccine after the Food and Drug Administration said it is not the most ideal to immunize healthcare workers and senior citizens with due to its lower efficacy rate.

“How can a vaccinator convince the person that he is about to inoculate if he/she himself/herself is being discouraged by the government to use the Sinovac vaccine?” Senator Panfilo Lacson said on Monday. “This raises more questions and issues than what the NTF (National Task Force) is already busy grappling with.”

While the FDA allowed Sinovac emergency use, the regulatory agency said the vaccine is not recommended for people constantly exposed to the virus. This came after the vaccine showed a relatively low 50.4% efficacy rate in late-stage trials in Brazil, which involved healthcare workers.

FDA Director General Eric Domingo said Sinovac should only be used on healthy individuals aged 18 to 59, noting that it had a 65.3% to 91.2% efficacy rate when used on healthy people within the recommended age range.

Lacson likened giving Sinovac to the public despite the vaccine's less-than-ideal performance to "a chef who refuses to eat the food that he just cooked because it is not good but which he serves to the customers."

Senator Joel Villanueva is likewise skeptical of the emergency use approval, saying medical workers should only be administering “what they have tried on themselves.”

“If Sinovac is not recommended for health workers, are we not practicing ‘class vaccination’ by giving it to others?” Villanueva asked.

Similar questions are being thrown by netizens, with one Twitter user saying: “Hindi rekomendado sa healthcare workers o sa seniors dahil mababa ang efficacy ng Sinovac. Bakit inaprubahan? Kanino gagamitin? [Sinovac is not recommended for healthcare workers or seniors because of its low efficacy. Why was it approved? To whom will it be administered?]”

For another Twitter user, discouraging the use of the vaccine on medical frontliners "is an admission that there's something wrong with Sinovac.” Meanwhile, one took a swipe at Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque after the official defended the vaccine brand, saying it is acceptable under the World Health Organization's standards.

"Why settle for low efficacy when you can have better at a cheaper price? We’re talking about lives, Harry," the user wrote.

For Senator Ralph Recto, there are more preferrable brands, but Senate President Tito Sotto expressed his confidence in the China-made vaccines Sinovac and Sinopharm.

“Those are the two vaccines with no human intervention or possible human error because it's 'one vial, one dose' and the syringe is attached," Sotto said. "The others are five-dose vials that have to be diluted and dispensed very carefully to avoid overdose or underdose. Then we have to buy syringes separately. I hope people realize that."

Despite the lower efficacy rate on healthcare workers, the FDA chief said Sinovac is a good option for those with allergies because there is a low possibility that a person will develop severe allergies or anaphylaxis after inoculation. He also said the vaccine is halal-certified since it was tested in Indonesia.

China is donating a total of 600,000 Sinovac doses to the Philippines. This is apart from the 25 million doses the national government has also secured from the same vaccine firm.