HEALTH workers will not lose their priority status even if they refuse to be inoculated with the vaccine for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) that will be arriving from China this Sunday, Malacañang spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said.
Speaking in Filipino during an interview with state-run PTV 4 on Saturday, Roque said the “change in protocol” also meant that the health workers could wait for their preferred brand.
Roque gave the assurance as 600,000 doses of CoronaVac, the first batch that the Philippines will be receiving from its manufacturer Sinovac Biotech Ltd., and 525,600 doses from British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca through the Covax Facility will be arriving on Sunday and Monday, respectively.
It also came a day after health personnel from the Philippine General Hospital protested against the government plan to inoculate them with the Chinese-made vaccine and demanded that they be given “the safest dose” with the “highest efficacy rate” although they did not name a specific brand.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) had approved the recommendation of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group and the Department of Health’s Technical Advisory Group to allow the administration of Sinovac vaccines to frontline medical workers.
The IATF-EID’s approval comes despite results of clinical trials showing that the Sinovac vaccine only has a 50.4-percent efficacy rate among health care workers exposed to Covid-19.
The Palace official clarified that the new rule would only apply to health care workers because of the condition stipulated in the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued to Sinovac.
“Pang-health care workers lang po iyan. Sa lahat po, kinakailangan po talaga kung ano ang naririyan ay tatanggapin natin (That’s just for health care workers. So, the rest must accept whatever vaccine is available),” Roque said.
Nonetheless, Roque said no one would be forced to take CoronaVac.
The FDA had allowed the emergency use of CoronaVac on healthy individuals aged 18 to 59 not including health care workers.
On Wednesday, Roque said the government decided to administer the Sinovac vaccine to “economic frontliners” from 18 to 59 years old.
He said Cabinet officials and even Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo might also be among the first in line to receive the vaccines from Sinovac.
Roque said the government was “excited” over the delivery of the vaccines with President Rodrigo Duterte himself personally attending the ceremony prepared at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City on Sunday afternoon.
A day after the arrival of the Sinovac vaccines, the first round of the allocated doses from AstraZeneca from the Covax Facility will be arriving at noontime on Monday, Roque announced late Saturday in a statement.
“This forms part of the 44 million doses of Covax to inoculate 20 percent of our population,” he said.
Roque thanked the co-leaders of the Covax Facility — World Health Organization, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the United Nations Children’s Fund — toward this end.
The Philippines stands to get 9.4 million doses from AstraZeneca and US drugmaker Pfizer-BioNTech through the Covax Facility, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. had said.
The FDA has previously granted EUAs to both Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.
In anticipation of the arrival of the Sinovac vaccines, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) announced on Saturday that it was ready to deliver the first batch of vaccines to their destinations.
MMDA Chairman Benjamin Abalos Jr. said the vaccines would initially be stored at the Health department’s cold storage warehouse in Marikina City.
Abalos said during the Laging Handa public briefing on PTV-4 that the MMDA’s Bus Carousel along EDSA or its adjoining lane would be used to hasten the delivery of the vaccines to at least 30 hospitals.
Abalos said based on their simulations, they might be able to make the deliveries from the warehouse to the different hospitals in Metro Manila where the vaccines would be administered earlier than expected and advised motorists passing through the same route to give way to the six 40-foot container vans.