Duterte wants simultaneous rollout of Sinovac, AstraZeneca vaccines to give health workers a choice — official

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 5)— President Rodrigo Duterte wants the simultaneous deployment of the Sinovac and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines to give options to healthcare workers participating in the inoculation program, a task force official said on Friday.

Vince Dizon, testing czar and COVID-19 response deputy chief implementer, said he expects the rollout of the newly-arrived AstraZeneca vaccines to start “immediately” — per instructions of the chief executive.

“The rollout will start immediately, as based on the instructions of our President— that he wants the rollout to be simultaneous, so that also our healthcare workers are given a choice,” Dizon said in an interview with CNN Philippines’ The Source.

“As early as maybe today or in the next few days, the AstraZeneca doses will already be rolled out, and it will provide a choice to our healthcare workers,” Dizon added.

While Sinovac's CoronaVac vaccine was the first to arrive in the country, groups of healthcare workers earlier expressed dismay that it will be given to them even after the Food and Drug Administration did not recommend it for medical frontliners. The FDA cited a clinical trial in Brazil which showed the vaccine has an efficacy rate of 50.4%. The Chinese company’s general manager Helen Yang defended the data, saying the trials covered frontliners more exposed to the virus.

Nearly half a million doses of the vaccine developed by the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm landed in the Philippines on Thursday evening, giving a push to the country’s delayed inoculation drive against the virus. The Philippines was among the last of countries in Southeast Asia to start its COVID-19 vaccination drive, even if it has the second highest count of cases in the region.

The 487,200-dose shipment that arrived was supplied by the COVAX facility, a global initiative that seeks to ensure nations' equitable access to coronavirus vaccines. The particular batch was developed in South Korea and donated by European nations.

In an earlier interview with CNN Philippines, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. confirmed the government was looking into the possible simultaneous rollout of the two vaccines, especially with the threats of the new variants, and the continuous spikes in virus infections.

For his part, Dizon said the arrival of the two shipments is a “great start,” but stressed the products won’t be enough to cover the country’s over a million healthcare workers.

“So the priority right now is to inoculate our 1.7 million healthcare workers, so every vaccine that comes in, regardless of brand, will be for them,” Dizon said, expressing hope that all frontliners can be vaccinated by the end of March or April.

Waiting for recommendations on AstraZeneca use

Galvez earlier revealed that some doctors recommended that AstraZeneca shots be given to older healthcare workers, in order to “offset” the limitations of the Sinovac vaccine with regards to the age group.

But Dizon stressed officials are still waiting for the recommendations of National Immunization Technical Advisory Group for the final distribution list of the doses.

Aside from the earlier shipments, the country also expects to receive one million doses of the China-made Sinovac vaccine later this month, Galvez said. On top of this, Duterte also announced on Friday that China would be donating an additional 400,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines.

READ: UK helping PH in vax program, looks forward to delivery of 22M AstraZeneca shots