NEWS | PGH health workers protest, demand safe and effective vaccines

Photo by Edd Gumban of the Philippine Star

Health workers from the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) staged a protest last February 26 demanding that they should be inoculated with vaccines that are safe and with higher efficacy. The protest happened after a Malacañang announcement stated that the first batch of vaccines that will arrive in the Philippines is the Sinovac vaccine from China. These vaccines will be rolled out to health workers in at least 30 hospitals, including the PGH.

The arrival of the Sinovac vaccine, CoronaVac, on February 28 is in contrast with the statement of vaccine czar Carlito Galvez who previously mentioned that Pfizer vaccines will be the first set of vaccines that will be delivered in the country.

Sinovac’s efficacy on health workers

In the protest, health workers questioned the safety of Sinovac’s vaccine for health workers.

The Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Sinovac’s CoronaVac an emergency use authorization but recommended against administering it to health workers with high exposure to the disease.

According to FDA Director-General Eric Domingo, CoronaVac has a lower efficacy of 50.4% in Brazil trials that involved health workers exposed to COVID-19. Due to this, experts do not recommend the use of Coronavac in the priority sector.

Furthermore, experts recommended the use of CoronoVac for people aged 18 to 59. This was after separate Phase 3 trials in Indonesia and Turkey demonstrated an efficacy of 65.3% to 91.2%. These trials were done mostly in community settings and not among health workers who were exposed to COVID-19.

‘Safe’ and scarce vaccines

According to the Department of Health’s (DOH) advisory group, they have approved the use of Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine for healthcare workers but those who prefer another brand would not be penalized.

Dr. Maria Consorcia Quizon of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) said that the Sinovac vaccine that was evaluated is safe for use for healthcare workers. She added that the CoronaVac is what is available as of the moment so the state must make use of it.

Furthermore, Dr. Edsel Salvana of the DOH technical advisory group (TAG) also said that CoronaVac looks like it will save lives and so it is but right to offer to the people on the frontlines who have been saving lives.

“After much deliberation, nakapagkasundaan ng NITAG at TAG na sulit pa rin na ito ay i-alok sa ating heathworkers at mabigyan sila ng pagkakataon based on their own understanding sa mga ibibigay nating information kung gusto nila itong tanggapin or hindi,” Dr Ana Ong -Lim, also a member of TAG, explained.

Demand for better vaccine

According to PGH personnel, after a year of sacrificing and battling against COVID-19, they are worthy of getting the most effective vaccine.

“Nandito kami ngayon kasi we value science and of course we value our Filipno health care workers at dahil doon naniniwala kami na our Filipino health care workers and the Filipino at large deserve nothing but safest and most effective vaccine against this disease,” Dr. Omid Javier Siahmard, a medical intern in PGH stated.

According to the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) president Robert Mendoza, half or some 2,500 to 3,000 PGH workers would not want to be vaccinated with CoronoVac due to its low efficacy rate of only 50.4%.

Instead of pushing on vaccinating health workers with the Chinese vaccine, Mendoza said the government should speed up negotiations so that the country could acquire the other COVID-19 vaccines soon.

Furthermore, Filipino Nurses United (FNU) president Maristela Abenojar also said that their members did not want the Sinovac jab because it had passed only second-stage clinical trials.

On the other hand, PGH spokesperson and COVID-19 survivor Jonas del Rosario expressed his willingness to be inoculated with the China-made CoronaVac. According to previous plans, he will be the first person to be inoculated legally but in a recent decision made by the Inter-Agency Task Force, he will be at the back of the line of recipients. He is no longer scheduled to get the China-made vaccines next week.

In an earlier statement, the All UP Academic Employees Union — Manila (AUAEU-M) urged the PGH administration to stand in solidarity with their health workers, reiterating that this entire situation is merely a reflection of the shortcomings of the Duterte government’s pandemic response.

“After all, this entire situation is merely a reflection of the shortcomings of the Duterte government’s pandemic response. For almost a year, the health personnel of PGH have paid for these shortcomings with their sweat, blood, and lives. Now is the time to truly and unequivocally stand by them,” AUAEU-M asserted.

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