Robredo backs doctors' plea to test Sinovac before giving to health workers

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 28) — Without any health technology assessment on the China-donated Sinovac vaccine, there is no added layer of protection for Filipinos who will get the doses, Vice President Leni Robredo said on Sunday.

In her weekly radio show Biserbisyong Leni, Robredo echoed the recent call of doctors to have Sinovac's CoronaVac brand of vaccine undergo an evaluation from the government-based Health Technology Assessment Council before they can be administered to health workers starting this week.

"Ako mismo, hindi ko binibili yung ganoong argument na dahil donated, hindi na kailangan ng positive recommendation ng HTAC. Kasi donated man 'yan o bibilhin natin, kailangan nating proteksyunan ang ating mga kababayan," she said. "Ano lang naman yung magkaroon ng positive recomendation?"

[Translation: Personally, I do not buy the argument that since they are donated, we do not need any positive recommendation from the HTAC. Because whether those were donated or bought, we still need to protect our fellow Filipinos. What does it take to simply get a positive recommendation?]

She added: "Hindi ko naman sinasabing masama 'yung Sinovac. Ang sinasabi ko lang mag-go through naman sana sa proseso para siguradong protected tayo."

[Translation: I'm not saying that Sinovac is bad. I'm just saying that it should go through a process so that we're sure that we are protected.]

The HTAC, which is composed of health experts, evaluates COVID-19 vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration and craft recommendations to the Department of Health as to which vaccines should be procured for the people.

In a separate advisory, the HTAC said it has not yet issued any recommendation on the use of CoronaVac vaccine and is still "awaiting more data" needed to complete its assessment.

The FDA earlier granted emergency use authorization for CoronaVac but noted that it is not recommended for medical workers exposed to COVID-19 patients because it has a low efficacy rate of 50.4% for this group.

The Philippine General Hospital Physicians' Association said in a statement on Saturday that the vaccination plan "should have been handled with more prudence and transparency."

"The PGH PA stands firm that Sinovac, despite being the only vaccine available at hand, should undergo appraisal by the Health Technology Assessment Council to facilitate individual informed decision-making before it is administered to healthcare workers," it said. "We trust that HTAC shall formulate these recommendations with judicious haste."

PGH spokesperson Dr. Jonas del Rosario also told CNN Philippines' Newsroom Weekend that of their 2,000 employees and healthcare workers, only 12% agreed to be inoculated with Sinovac.

He said plans for the implementation of the rollout is still being finalized for these workers, while the remaining 88% will still be prioritized for another brand of vaccine that arrives. A ceremonial vaccination will be held at the PGH on Monday.

READ: Only 12% of PGH personnel willing to receive Sinovac vaccine, spokesman says 

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said that only health workers can refuse to get the Sinovac vaccine and still retain their priority status once their preferred brand arrives.

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

A shipment of 600,000 vials of CoronaVac is expected to arrive in the country late on Sunday with President Rodrigo Duterte planning to lead a welcoming ceremony. The vaccine will be first administered to health workers in COVID-19 referral hospitals.