DOH halts Astra jab use for under-60 for 2 weeks

The use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on people 59 years and below will be halted for “about two weeks,” the Department of Health said after suspending inoculations, using the brand over clotting concerns.

This, as health authorities studied the vaccine’s link to a rare blood clot disease occurring among people within the age range.

In a public press briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire reiterated that the suspension was a “precautionary measure” and that vaccinations would still push through if the recommendations turn out to be positive.

Vergeire said: “For this temporary suspension, experts will study these incidents of adverse events, and we will wait for the WHO’s recommendation.

“So for this precautionary measure maybe it’s going to last about two weeks for us to have all of these recommendations...If the recommendations are positive, we will push through with vaccinating with AstraZeneca,” she added.

Vergeire said those who have been given AstraZeneca shots need not worry about the ban, as vials for the second dose are estimated to arrive between May and June, and are covered by the prescribed intervals for the two-shot regimen.

She added: “There are no noted incidents of adverse events in our country, that’s why we are saying that this suspension is just a precautionary measure...”

‘Think twice’

Earlier Saturday, Dr. Tony Leachon, former adviser to the government’s coronavirus task force, said authorities should think twice about suspending the use of AstraZeneca vaccines, saying it needed further study.

Experts had said the benefits of using AstraZeneca outweighed its risks.

Leachon said: “We should have weighed this with the one in the United Kingdom. It’s not age-specific and they are reviewing this. Even though there is a link between rare blood clots and younger people, they have not totally banned its usage. The ban imposed was just brief, because if you do that, people will lose the opportunity to get vaccinated inside the country.”

The DOH on Thursday adopted the recommendation of the Food and Drug Administration to halt the use of AstraZeneca vaccines for people 59 years old and below, with the FDA clarifying that banning it did not mean the vaccine was unsafe.

The private sector and some local government units have ordered 17 million doses, with the first batch estimated to arrive this May.

Vaccination fears

With the suspension, Leachon fears this would affect the country’s vaccination drive.

AstraZeneca is one of only two COVID-19 vaccine brands currently in use in the Philippines, the other being China’s Sinovac.

Leachon said: “What’s happening in the vaccination program is not so good because we have limited options for vaccines.

“The style I see in other countries that are successful is that there are multiple choices such as in America. There is (sic) Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. In Indonesia, they have Sinovac but they have Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.”

Compassionate permit

The Food and Drugs Administration said Saturday the compassionate special permit for the use of anti-parasitic drug ivermectin as COVID-19 treatment was issued per patient.

In an interview with “Dobol B TV,” FDA director general Eric Domingo explained that an application was needed before the regulatory body could issue the compassionate special permit to a hospital.

Domingo made the remark after questions on the FDA’s approval of the compassionate special permit to a particular hospital were raised.

Moreover, Domingo said medicines that are approved for COVID-19 treatment such as the Remdisivir were also used under compassionate special permit.

The application for compassionate use permits can be filed before the FDA and it can be acted upon within 24 hours, he added.

Per patient

On Friday, Former Health Secretary Dr. Paulyn Ubial also said the compassionate use permit on anti-parasitic drug ivermectin should be issued per patient.

Domingo reiterated that the compassionate use permit is different from certificate of product registration.

A compassionate use permit only allows legal administration of the drug in the country but is not an endorsement of its safety and efficacy from the FDA.

A certificate of product registration, on the other hand, will allow manufacturers to sell the drug commercially and is an FDA guarantee that the drug is safe and effective.

So far, the manufacturers that applied for certificate of product registration have not submitted any requirements to the FDA, Domingo said.

Still prohibited

Despite the application’s approval, the FDA said ivermectin’s distribution was still prohibited, saying only the hospital that had the permit for ivermectin’s compassionate use for humans would be allowed to import the drug through a licensed importer.

Several lawmakers and physicians are pushing for the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 despite opposition from some health experts.

Health experts warned that there was lack of evidence to prove that the drug could be a remedy for patients infected with COVID-19 despite articles and social media posts promoting Ivermectin as an anti-COVID-19 drug in Brazil, France, South Africa and South Korea.

The World Health Organization, the US FDA , European Medicine Agency, and even ivermectin manufacturer, Merck, all said there was lack of data and evidence of the efficacy and benefits for COVID-19 prevention and treatment.

Lost revenues

Philippine hotels have lost some 80 to 90 percent of income as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to affect the tourism industry, according to a group of hotel owners.

The Overseas Workers Welfare Association has booked all hotels in the National Capital Region as quarantine facilities for returning overseas Filipino workers.

But the agency has been paying for overhead costs such as employee salary and utility costs, said Philippine Hotel Owners Association President Arthur Lopez.

PHOA previously said its buildings were already at full capacity, as the Philippine College of Physicians earlier appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to use hotels as quarantine facilities for local cases to decongest hospitals.

Under current travel protocols, OFWs are made to quarantine while waiting for their COVID-19 test results.

Courts closure

The Supreme Court on Saturday said it would extend the physical closure of courts and judicial offices in areas under the so-called “NCR Plus” bubble until April 18.

This is due to “the unabated rise of COVID-19 cases,” according to the administrative circular signed by newly-minted Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo.

The top magistrate recommended that courts in NCR Plus (Metro Manila, Laguna, Rizal, Bulacan, and Cavite) continue operating through videoconferencing.

These courts will be accessible through their email addresses and hotlines posted on the high court’s website.

“Judges may conduct fully remote videoconferencing hearings on pending cases and other matters, whether urgent or not, regardless of their physical location and without prior permission from the Office of the Court Administrator,” said Gesmundo.

Isolation centers

The chairman of the House of Representatives committee on social services lauded Saturday the conversion of some schools in Metro Manila into temporary isolation centers to help address the burgeoning cases of COVID-19 in the region.

Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas, the committee’s chairperson, made the statement as the Philippine Red Cross announced that isolation wards would be established at campuses of the Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, and University of the Philippines for asymptomatic and mild cases to stop the spread of COVID-19 in households.

“I am proud that my two alma maters, the Ateneo and UP, have not hesitated in offering their facilities to help their fellow Filipinos,” Vargas, a deputy majority leader, said.

He stressed the need for more facilities, as he recounted the difficulties encountered by his constituents in getting admitted in hospitals.

Topics: AstraZeneca vaccine , COVID-19 , Department of Health , Maria Rosario Vergeire
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