Only health care workers can refuse Sinovac vaccine without losing priority status – Roque

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 27) — Health care workers who refuse to be injected with Chinese firm Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine will still be prioritized when their preferred brand becomes available, but others do not have this privilege, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Saturday.

Roque, who also speaks for the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, policy-making body in government’s pandemic response, previously said Filipinos cannot be “picky” when it comes to vaccine brand. That pronouncement was criticized even by lawmakers. However, Roque explained in January that only one brand was expected soon, and that anything approved by the Food and Drug Administration is safe to use.

This week, the FDA granted emergency use authorization for Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine, which will be the first to be rolled out in the country. The 600,000 doses donated by the Chinese government will arrive on Sunday, to be welcomed by President Rodrigo Duterte and other officials. The FDA earlier flagged that the 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.

Because of this recommendation, health care workers are now given the opportunity to choose vaccine brands other than Sinovac, Roque said.

Ang pagbabago po sa ating protocol, kung ayaw po ng health care worker ang Sinovac, pupwede po siyang tumanggi at hindi mawawala ‘yung kanyang prayoridad kapag dumating na yung bakunang gusto niya,” Roque said in an online media briefing.

[Translation: What has changed in our protocol, if the health care worker really does not want Sinovac, he can refuse without losing priority status once the preferred arrives.]

Pero pang health care workers lang po ‘yan ah. Sa lahat po kinakailangan pa rin talaga, kung ano po ang naririyan ay tatanggapin natin. Kung ayaw naman po ay wala talagang sapilitan,” he quickly clarified.

[Translation: But that’s just for health care workers. Everyone still has to accept whatever there is. But no one will be forced to be vaccinated.]

Roque also stressed that the CoronaVac is safe and effective, which is why the IATF approved its use on medical frontliners, as recommended by the country’s health experts.

Usec. Maria Rosario Vergeire, spokesperson of the Department of Health, clarified that while the CoronaVac’s clinical trials showed lower efficacy in preventing mild symptoms, it is 100% effective against moderate and severe symptoms. This means it can effectively reduce morbidity and mortality – the main goal for prioritizing health workers in the vaccination program, Vergeire said.

Also in the government’s vaccination priority list are indigent senior citizens, remaining senior citizens, remaining indigent population, and uniformed personnel, followed by other essential workers.