Roque on Sinovac preference: It's the only choice for now

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Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 15) — Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque defended the government's eagerness to secure up to 25 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine, even if the Chinese drug maker has yet to prove it is safe and effective.

"Ang dahilan kung bakit kumukuha tayo ng Sinovac kasi sila lamang ang magbibigay ng supply sa lalong mabilis na panahon," Roque said in his Tuesday briefing. "Hindi naman po natin bibilhin 'yan kung hindi sasabihin ng FDA na ito'y ligtas at ito po ay epektibo."

[Translation: The reason we are pursuing Sinovac is because they are the only ones that can provide us the supply in the shortest time possible. Of course, we're not going to buy the doses without the FDA's certification that they are safe and effective.]

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As of this writing, only the vaccine produced by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech has secured emergency use authorization abroad, including from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Singapore, which have started administering the doses to health workers.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr. on Monday denied that the Philippines was late in securing vaccine supply deals. He added that negotiations are being finalized to get Sinovac vaccines in the country by March, a month earlier than its commitment.

READ: Pfizer and US FDA in negotiations before coronavirus vaccine authorization

Talks with Pfizer are ongoing, with vaccine doses likely to be shipped to the country by the second quarter of 2021 at the earliest.

Food and Drug Administration director general Eric Domingo said Sinovac is one of three vaccine makers who have already inquired about the process for securing emergency use approval in the country.

Sinovac has yet to disclose results of its phase 3 clinical trials, although Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana earlier said it has already been administered to a million people in the mainland, including members of the Chinese army.

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Domingo added that the FDA will not approve the emergency use of China-made vaccines if there are not enough safety and efficacy data to back it up.

Domingo said China's approval of Sinovac for general use is unlikely to fast-track the approval process here, as the Chinese FDA is not considered a "mature regulatory agency." Earlier, Galvez said it would be easier for the Philippine FDA to approve a vaccine if it has already been given emergency use authorization by US or UK regulators.

Unofficial data also pegged Sinovac's cost per dose as more expensive than that of other drug makers. However, both Roque and the Budget Department's Procurement Service have said this was not the biggest consideration now.

"The instruction of the President is very precise, we get the vaccines for the protection of the Filipino people," said Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Lao. "Whatever is the safest and the most effective and available, that we will get. The cost and the price will be taken care of by the DOF (Department of Finance)...it is secondary."

In a series of tweets, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin, Jr. claimed that he secured 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine from a deal with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for delivery next month, but that somebody "dropped the ball." Roque said he was unsure about the details of the supposed deal.

Pfizer's vaccine is said to be 95% effective in protecting a person from COVID-19 and has no safety concerns.

"Ang problema, gustuhin man natin ng Pfizer, wala naman tayong makuha para sa first quarter [The problem is even if we want Pfizer, we cannot get the supply within the first quarter]," Roque added.

READ: Galvez bares PH coronavirus vaccine distribution plan