Leading Filipino Senator Questions Government’s Preference For Chinese COVID Vaccine
A recent poll indicated that less than a third of Filipinos are willing to be vaccinated, sparking concerns that a less efficacious vaccine would do little to change minds.

The Philippines is expecting to receive its first batch of China’s Sinovac Biotech COVID-19 vaccine next month — but one leading Filipino senator is questioning the government’s preference for the candidate as new data indicates a lower efficacy rate than western competitors.

Earlier this week, developer Sinovac Biotech reported an efficacy rate of only 50.38% in its final stage trials, undertaken in Brazil. The company has claimed, however, that this low rate is due the fact the vaccine was trialled on medical workers, who have a naturally higher risk of catching coronavirus.

Western vaccines like Pfizer/BioNtech’s or Moderna’s were trialled mostly among members of the public, and earned efficacy rates of 95% and 94.5% respectively.

The main concern expressed by the Filipino senators appears to be founded in the public’s limited confidence in vaccines; a poll last week by Pulse Asia indicated that less than a third of Filipinos are willing to be vaccinated.

“The insistence or preference for Sinovac cannot be denied and will not augur well for building up confidence of people in our ability to address the pandemic,” said Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, addressing the country’s COVID task force on Friday.  Drilon is the leader of the opposition parties in the Senate.

The country has one of the highest  number of coronavirus cases in Asia, but its vaccination programme is lacking on the continent.

As of 13 January, China had vaccinated around 10 million people. The Philippines had not approved a single vaccine, but the government hopes to vaccinate 70 million people this year.

Drilon questioned: “There are other vaccines with a much higher efficacy at lower, if not more competitive, cost. Why are we insisting that we buy Sinovac?”

The Sinovac vaccine has not yet been granted emergency use authorization, with the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only receiving the request on Wednesday. The FDA approved Pfizer the following day: the country’s first vaccine.

President Rodrigo Duterte had previously said that he would prefer to have his country’s COVID vaccines sourced from China or Russia, which some observers have interpreted as as part of the president’s pursuit of closer relations with Beijing.

Image Credits: Bret Bostock/Flickr.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.