MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government is expressing confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine of British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca even as some experts are casting doubt on it over questions on its reported success rate.
“We have confidence in the vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca,” vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said Friday as the Philippine government signed the first supply agreement for a coronavirus vaccine — a P600-million tripartite deal with some 30 private companies and AstraZeneca for 2.6 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine, which would be good for around 1.3 million Filipinos.
Galvez cited AstraZeneca’s reputation for making “quality drugs and vaccines, which are being used around the world.”
AstraZeneca and its partner, the University of Oxford, had announced that it is seeking regulatory approval for its vaccine after it showed a 70% efficacy rate on average.
That rate jumped to 90% when an initial half-dose then a full dose was given, similar to that in rival vaccines in development by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.
However, US scientists are pointing out that the higher efficacy rate came in a smaller trial consisting of people aged 55 and under and was discovered by accident.
Given these questions, AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot told Bloomberg that further research is needed on its coronavirus vaccine, but the additional testing is unlikely to affect regulatory approval in Europe.
Better than nothing
Back in the Philippines, the private sector is “desperate” for a solution that will put an end to the local COVID-19 outbreak so that the economy may safely reopen.
“This is something better than nothing. It’s a chance to really open up the economy. It’s a chance to really bring back confidence,” presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion said.
Concepcion said that the private sector, which will be donating half of the doses it procured to the Philippine government, was willing to bet on the AstraZeneca vaccine, even as it faces scrutiny over its efficacy data.
He admitted, however, that the first 2.6 million doses of the vaccine, which he expects to arrive in May or June next year after local regulatory approval, is a “great start” but “not enough.”
Galvez said the Philippine government is in talks with AstraZeneca to procure one million more doses of its vaccine on top of the 2.6 million that will be bought by the private sector.
He said that AstraZeneca will also conduct clinical trials of its vaccine in the country, alongside Sinovac Biotech Ltd., Sichuan Clover Biopharmaceuticals, Gamaleya Research Center, and Johnson and Johnson.
“Strict protocols will be implemented in the evaluation and selection of the COVID-19 vaccine,” Galvez said.
The Philippines targets to vaccinate 60 to 70 million Filipinos against the coronavirus in three to five years in the hopes of achieving herd immunity, or the point where most of the community have become immune to a disease that even those who are still vulnerable to it are less likely to contract it. — with a report from Agence France-Presse
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