IATF approves use of Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine for health workers

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 26) — The inter-agency task force on the government's COVID-19 response has approved the recommendation of health experts to allow the use of Chinese firm Sinovac's vaccine on health care workers.

"Just this morning, we presented to the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) and we got the approval already," Department of Health Spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said in an online media briefing on Friday. The IATF's decision will then be presented to President Rodrigo Duterte.

The IATF gave credence to the conclusion reached by the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group and the DOH's Technical Advisory Group that Sinovac's CoronaVac "will be beneficial for the health care workers," Vergeire said.

Early this week, the Food and Drug Administration granted Emergency Use Authorization to Sinovac, recommending its vaccine to prevent COVID-19 in clinically healthy individuals aged 18-59. FDA Director General Eric Domingo earlier said CoronaVac is not recommended for medical workers exposed to COVID-19 patients because it has a low efficacy rate of 50.4% for this group.

But Vergeire clarified that while clinical trials show lower efficacy in preventing mild symptoms, CoronaVac is still 100% effective against moderate and severe symptoms. This means it can effectively reduce morbidity and mortality – the main goal for prioritizing medical frontliners in the vaccination program, Vergeire said.

READ: FDA only 'flagged' 50% efficacy of Sinovac, but still safe for health workers, Vergeire says

Members of NITAG and TAG agreed health workers should be given the chance to decide for themselves whether they want to take CoronaVac, considering this will be the first to be rolled out in the country for public use.

Officials said the 600,000 doses of CoronaVac donated by the Chinese government will arrive in the country on Sunday, with health care workers getting priority.

Amid questions on its efficacy, Dr. Anna Ong-Lim of the DOH's TAG said the medical frontliners who will refuse to get inoculated with it will not lose their spot in the priority list. However, it's still unclear when the other vaccines will become available.

READ: Health workers' vaccine hesitancy may affect public confidence, says expert

"Asang-asa tayo ng darating na ‘yung iba e (We were expecting too much that the others will arrive),” Ong-Lim said, mentioning the vaccine made by US firm Pfizer. Delivery of Pfizer doses through the global COVAX facility was delayed by the lack of an indemnification agreement, which the government sent last week.

"Ang problema is medyo nagkakaroon talaga ng (The problem is there have been) issues about whether these vaccines will come and when they will come in," Ong-Lim said.

Dr. Nina Castillo-Carandang, a member of NITAG, said the first batch of Sinovac vaccines need not undergo the Health Technology Assessment Council, an independent advisory body, since it's a donation. This means one less step before the much-awaited start of the vaccination program, which is expected next week.

CNN Philippines' Lara Tan contributed to this report.