By Rory Nakpil (Class 2022), Sean Sy (Class 2023), and Mark Teo (Class 2023)
Amidst controversy, 1773 members of the UPCM-PGH community, including students, residents, staff, and retirees, came to the PGH atrium to be inoculated with Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccines during the vaccine campaign kickoff last March 1 to 5, 2021.
600,000 doses of Sinovac arrived in the Philippines on Feb. 28, a few days after being issued emergency use authorization (EUA) by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA), last February 22, 2021. The vaccines were then allocated to various COVID referral centers all over the nation, including the Philippine General Hospital.
The arrival of Sinovac’s CoronaVac in PGH was the culmination of a rollercoaster of events starting in January, when initial talks of the vaccine entering the country lead to the formation of the PGH Vaccine Deployment Committee.
On January 18, PGH director Dr. Gerardo “Gap” Legaspi shared a message to the UPCM-PGH community, announcing the formation of the Vaccine Deployment Committee, and reassuring the community that efforts were being made to procure any vaccine, saying “Marami ang nagtatanong kung anong bakuna ang ibibigay sa mga HCWs na prayoridad ng gobyerno. Wala pa pong tiyak at opisyal na sagot dito. Atin lang pong tandaan na kapag ito ay naaprubahan ng FDA at nabigyan ng EUA, makakasigurado tayong ito ay mataas na antas na pagiging ligtas. Ito rin ay sinigurong umabot sa itinakdang efficacy level ng mga eksperto… Ang araw na hinihintay natin ay nalalapit na.” (Many have been asking what vaccine will be given to the HCWs, who are given priority by the government. There is no official and final answer to this question. Let us simply remember that if a vaccine is approved by the FDA and given an EUA, we can rest assured that it is safe. We can also be assured that experts have proven that it achieves a certain efficacy level… The day we have been waiting for is coming close.)
According to Dr. Legaspi, he received a call from the Department of Health (DoH) on February 8, 2021, informing him that the vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech would arrive on February 15, and that PGH needed to fulfill requirements, including a pre-registration and a dry run of receipt of vaccines and vaccination. However, come February 15, the Philippines had not received vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech, with vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. citing indemnification agreements as a roadblock in the rollout of Pfizer-BioTech vaccines despite the vaccines already having received an EUA. As of March 5, 2021, Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines have yet to arrive in the Philippines. The other vaccine the FDA has issued an EUA for, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, experienced delays in its arrival in the Philippines. Originally expected to arrive last March 1, 2021, 487,200 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in the Philippines on the eve of March 4, 2021, more than a week after the arrival of Sinovac’s CoronaVac. These circumstances led to the announcement of PGH that CoronaVac, rather than the originally planned Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, would be utilized in their vaccine campaign, a decision that was met with resistance from different groups within PGH. The PGH Physicians Association (PGH PA) issued a statement, and the All U.P. Workers Union spoke out and held a rally along Taft Avenue last February 26 expressing concerns regarding FDA’s approval of Sinovac and the acceptance of the vaccines by PGH, citing safety and efficacy concerns and that the consent given by PGH workers to be vaccinated was for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, not CoronaVac.
In response to the criticism, and to clarify misunderstandings regarding the vaccines, the administration of PGH held a town hall meeting last February 27. 2021. Dr. Legaspi, FDA Director General Dr. Rolando Enrique Domingo, National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) members Dr. Issa Alejandra and Dr. Minette Rosario, and DoH Technical Advisory Group (TAG) member Dr. Nina Carandang all spoke and answered questions during this town hall meeting.
As a parting note, Dr. Legaspi appeals to the UPCM-PGH community, saying “we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, it’s still a health emergency, and the decisions should be calibrated to that. Let us not expect the usual decisions. Of course, we don’t also expect the usual reactions, but I think we can better communicate [in the future].”
- An Interview with Dr. Legaspi Regarding Vaccines [Personal interview]. (2021, March 03).
- Casilao, J. (2021, February 27). PGH doctors want Sinovac vaccine to undergo further appraisal by HTAC. GMA News Online.
- Tomacruz, S. (2021, February 28). Philippines receives first COVID-19 vaccine delivery from Sinovac. Rappler.
- Tomacruz, S. (2021, March 3). After initial delay, Philippines to receive AstraZeneca vaccine on March 4. Rappler.