While everybody “seems to be scrambling” to buy the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer, President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday warned of the experience of Norway with the COVID-19 jab, even as he stressed the government isn’t stopping anyone from being inoculated with the cure of their choice.
“Almost everybody na kilala ko are scrambling to buy itong Pfizer. To me it is a good one. If you want to follow the experience of Norway, go ahead, nobody will stop you. We never prohibited anybody from buying from the government. We are not selling (the vaccine). We are buying for the people, libre (free for them),” Duterte said in a televised briefing.
In contrast, the President said no one has died from using the vaccine made by Sinovac, the Chinese firm that Duterte’s critics say is being favored by the government.
“Yung Pfizer ng mga senador... 25 died after receiving their vaccine. There you are, mamili kayo,” he said.
This developed as the Department of Health said there will be no changes to the emergency use authorization (EUA) for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in the country, as the government awaits a report from the pharmaceutical company following the reported deaths of 29 elderly people who were given the drug in Norway.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said so far, the Norwegian authorities have not stated that the vaccine caused the deaths.
She said studies must be conducted before causality can be established.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also said studies need to be done, she added.
“Pfizer will have to submit to the Philippine Food and Drug Administration a report regarding this matter,” she said. After the report has been evaluated, the FDA can decide on Pfizer’s EUA, she added.
The FDA granted an EUA to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine last week, the first out of four applications it has received so far. The three other applicants are AstraZeneca, Gamaleya Institute of Russia and Sinovac from China.
“For now, while we do not have sufficient evidence to say that those deaths were caused by the vaccine, we will still be on status quo for the EUA we issued to Pfizer,” Vergeire said in Filipino.
Vergeire said the deaths should be understood in the context that the vaccine was given to critically-ill elderly patients in a facility.
“They seem to be saying it’s coincidental because the patients were severely ill and even the minor reactions to the vaccine may have an effect on them,” Vergeire said.
“Still they are not closing the issue. They would like to look into it further,” she added.
The Philippines’ vaccine expert panel is awaiting results of the Norwegian authorities’ investigation, said its head Nina Gloriani.
“If there really was an adverse reaction, it may be because these patients were too old [and] had several illnesses. We cannot say it was just because of the vaccine,” Gloriani told ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo in Filipino.
“But because there were too many deaths, within let us say a few days or one week, it needs to be investigated,” she said.
Dr. Edsel Salvaña, a member of the technical advisory group that advises the government’s Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, also said Norway has not categorically said the vaccine caused the deaths.
“It may have contributed [to the deaths] because common side effects like fever, chills from the vaccination, which are pretty much harmless in young people, may actually stress out these elderly people who have a lot of other comorbidities,” Salvaña, also the director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health, told ANC.
At present, COVID-19 vaccines are allowed only for emergency use because they are still under development.
The FDA has noted that only a few people out of the more than 5 million people injected with Pfizer’s vaccine in other countries showed severe allergic reactions, and there were no other safety concerns.
The DOH has emphasized the need for continuous monitoring of people who will receive the vaccines.
The country, which has already recorded more than half a million coronavirus infections, expects to receive COVID-19 vaccines as early as next month.