DOH to enforce 'brand agnostic' policy to prevent overcrowding in vaccination sites

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 19) — The Department of Health will implement a policy in which the local governments will not announce in advance the brand of COVID-19 doses they will roll out in vaccination sites, Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje announced on Wednesday.

"What we're going to enforce now is brand agnostic," Cabotaje told CNN Philippines' The Source.

"Dapat sasabihin lang you go [to the vaccination site] and whatever vaccine that will be available, you get it," she said. "So hindi na i-a-announce na we are now going to give Pfizer, we are now going to give Sinovac, we are now going to give AstraZeneca," she added.

[Translation: What they will only tell those set to be vaccinated is whatever vaccine is available, you get it. It will not be announced anymore that we are now going to give Pfizer, or Sinovac, or AstraZeneca.]

Cabotaje added: "Come to the vaccination [site] and then whatever vaccines you will get there, then you have the jab. If they do not like the vaccines that are given during that time, then they go to the end of the line."

She explained this is to avoid incidents similar to what the local governments of Manila and Parañaque dealt with early this week. Crowds trooped to inoculation sites in those cities where Pfizer-made vaccines are being offered.

Cabotaje said separately only healthcare workers were given the "right of first refusal" when there were only two brands available -- Sinovac and AstraZeneca -- at the start of their immunization in March.

"Ang binigyan lang natin ng right of first refusal ang A1, ang mga health workers kasi these are the vulnerable groups," Cabotaje said in a briefing.

[Translation: The A1 priority group or the health workers were the only ones given the right of first refusal since these are the vulnerable groups.]

In February, Food and Drug Administration Director General Eric Domingo said Sinovac's 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, based on a clinical trial in Brazil.

The Inter-Agency Task Force later approved the recommendation of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group or NITAG and the Department of Health's Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to allow the use of Sinovac's vaccine on healthcare workers.

Both NITAG and TAG agreed health workers should be given the chance to decide for themselves whether they want to take CoronaVac, which was the first vaccine brand that was rolled out in the country.

Only a day after this pronouncement, the Department of the Interior and Local Government ordered local government units to stop announcing vaccine brands to be used in jab sites to beat "brand preference."

"The best vaccine is the one that is available; therefore in order to overcome brand preference, LGUs should not announce the brand of vaccine to be used in vaccination centers," DILG Secretary Eduardo M. Año was quoted in a statement on Thursday.

Año said this move is necessary as the Philippines is "racing against time" to reach herd immunity.

"Given that every single day of delay increases the risk of covid transmission or infection, it is imperative the people get vaccinated immediately using the available vaccine," he added.

According to the DILG, the brand of the dose will be disclosed to vaccinees on-site before inoculation.

The DILG official stressed that all vaccines have emergency use authorization, ensuring their safety. He added that all of the doses available "prevent hospitalization or critical illness from COVID."

This was mirrored by the DOH in a separate statement issued on Thursday.

"DOH reiterated that all COVID-19 vaccines issued with Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are safe and effective," it said. "Before a vaccine can be issued with an EUA, it has to undergo rigorous evaluation processes involving the Department of Science and Technology, FDA, and various vaccine expert groups."

The Health Department also noted that the decision to not announce vaccine brands in advance "will not take away the right of individuals to be informed of the vaccine they are taking, as the vaccination process entails on-site vaccine education, proper recording using vaccination cards, and monitoring for Adverse Events Following Immunization."