PH govt eyes giving Sinovac doses to up to 9 million senior citizens next month

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 17) — Up to 9 million Filipino senior citizens may receive doses from China's Sinovac Biotech next month, despite previous recommendations to limit its use on healthy individuals aged 18 to 59.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said this is because Sinovac's CoronaVac vaccine has so far shown minimal adverse effects and is the only brand that provides the shortest time interval between the administration of the two doses.

"Sa master list natin, ang senior citizens ay 4 to 9 million. Ang titingnan po nating possibility ay ang Sinovac po," Galvez told a briefing on Wednesday.

[Translation: Our masterlist has 4 to 9 million senior citizens. We are considering the possibility of providing Sinovac.]

"Nakita natin 'yung Sinovac, very minimal yung adverse effects....ang interval natin na two doses is four weeks. Iyong AstraZeneca ay 12 weeks," he added.

[Translation: We've seen that with Sinovac, the adverse effects are very minimal...our interval between the two doses is four weeks. For AstraZeneca, it would take 12 weeks.]

On Feb. 26, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases approved the recommendation to use Sinovac's vaccine on health care workers, despite its previous warning that it has a low efficacy rate of 50.4% for this group.

The Department of Health said CoronaVac is still 100% effective against moderate and severe symptoms and can reduce morbidity and mortality. Health workers currently have the freedom to decide whether or not they would take this vaccine.

The FDA previously granted Emergency Use Authorization to Sinovac but recommended that the vaccine must only be used on clinically healthy individuals aged 18-59.

Galvez said more than 200,000 health care workers already received their first COVID-19 shot so far, with the available doses from Sinovac and British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca. The government targets to finish the inoculation of this group by next month, with senior citizens as next in line.

"Magsisimula po tayo sa seniors ng April. Most likely, 'pag AstraZeneca, magkakaroon po sila ng second dose, June or July," Galvez explained. "Iyon po 'yung intricacies natin kasi two doses and different intervals. Sa Sinovac wala tayong obligations."

[Translation: We will start vaccinating senior citizens by April. Most likely, with AstraZeneca, the second dose will have to be administered by June or July. Those are our intricacies because you have two doses but different intervals. With Sinovac, we have no obligations.]

Health authorities have not yet issued a formal recommendation on the use of Sinovac vaccines for senior citizens.

Meanwhile, the government is already planning to use up all of the initial 525,600 AstraZeneca doses as a first shot to provide partial protection to frontliners and to also prevent wastage since the doses have a shelf life of only three months, according to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

Galvez said 1.4 million more Sinovac doses will arrive next month, while 979,200 additional AstraZeneca doses will be delivered within the month or early April via the World Health Organization-led COVAX facility.