Philippines clears Sinovac Covid-19 shots, but not for health workers

Sinovac’s CoronaVac is the third candidate to get emergency approval for use in the Philippines. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MANILA (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - The Philippines approved Sinovac Biotech's coronavirus shots for emergency use, paving the way for the nation to get its first vaccine shipment of 600,000 doses possibly within days.

The Chinese developer's shots may be effective to prevent Covid-19 and can be used for healthy people aged 18 to 59, Food and Drug Administration head Eric Domingo said.

It is not recommended for health workers frequently exposed to the virus due to its 50.4 per cent efficacy for this group, he said in a briefing on Monday (Feb 22).

The Philippines has about 1.4 million health workers.

"According to our experts, (Sinovac's) vaccine is not the best vaccine for them," Mr Domingo said in a briefing, referring to health workers.

He cited results of clinical trials of Sinovac's CoronaVac in Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia.

CoronaVac is the third candidate to get emergency approval for use in the nation of over 108 million.

Sinovac had asked for three to five days to ready shipments to the Philippines, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said in the same briefing.

The South-east Asian nation, which has pivoted toward China under President Rodrigo Duterte, is seeking 25 million doses from Sinovac this year to support its goal of inoculating as many as 70 per cent of its population this year.

The first Sinovac shots will likely be administered to soldiers and other non-health front-line workers like supermarket employees, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a separate briefing.

Mr Duterte may only allow face-to-face classes once vaccines are rolled out, he said.

Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines were earlier approved by Philippine regulators for limited use, with health workers as priority.

The Philippines, which has the second-highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths in South-east Asia, has yet to begin its immunisation campaign.

It was banking on 117,000 Pfizer-BioNTech shots secured through the international vaccine sharing facility Covax to kick off its vaccine programme.

However, the unresolved question of who would pay for claims for damages in the event of adverse effects from the inoculations has delayed the delivery.

A Bill is pending in Congress that seeks to grant indemnity to coronavirus vaccine makers.

"We ask for your patience because the vaccines were delayed by a few days, but we can finally begin the vaccination," Mr Roque said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.