In December 2020, some western countries like the United States have already started vaccinating their healthcare workers and frontliners with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. While some have reported side effects such as headaches and fatigue, many are still looking to be vaccinated in the near future to protect themselves and their loved ones against the deadly coronavirus, which also has a new strain.
However, in the Philippines, frontliners have yet to be administered the shots as the procurement for the vaccine has been all but a clear path. And sadly, government and public health officials have been making contradicting statements regarding arrangements with pharmaceutical companies. (Read: Duque In Boiling Water For ‘Missed Chance’ At January 2021 COVID-19 Vaccine)
But just recently, news broke that some members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG), tasked to watch over President Rodrigo Duterte, had been vaccinated with the Sinopharm vaccine from China. This earned the ire of netizens for two things: first is that the Sinopharm vaccine is not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration (making it a smuggled vaccine, and technically illegal) and second, the frontliners and healthcare workers should have gone first in the hierarchy of vaccination.
The Sinopharm vaccine is from the China National Pharmaceutical Group Corp. (Sinopharm), a state-owned enterprise. The corporation is the sole producer of all the vaccines for China’s National Vaccination Program, making them the world’s sixth-largest vaccine manufacturer in the world. Sinopharm also produces drugs and medical devices.
The vaccine, which was injected to the close security members of the president, has an effectiveness of 50 to 90 percent— significantly lower than the leading vaccines Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna which have 95% effectiveness and 94.1% effectiveness, respectively. Meanwhile, some reports say that the Sinopharm vaccine is at 79 percent. (Read: Doctors Warn About Side Effects of COVID-19 Vaccine)
Aside from its effectiveness, the Chinese-made vaccine also differs in the technology used. The Sinopharm vaccine uses the inactivated or killed COVID-19 virus, which has been used for many vaccines in the past, while the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines use the more modern mRNA-based technology. While the inactivated virus has been tried and tested, it can be more difficult to produce.
The Sinopharm vaccine is only one of the candidate vaccines that the Philippine government is looking to procure in bulk for Filipinos. Other vaccines include Sinovac and CanSino Biologics (both Chinese vaccine companies), Pfizer-BioNTech, Modera, and AstraZeneca.
According vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr., the Philippines is already in talks with representatives from Sinovac to finalize a deal. (Read: What We Know So Far About the COVID-19 Vaccines From Pfizer, Moderna)
The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has already identified key groups that will be prioritized for the first batch of vaccines. These are healthcare workers, frontliners, military personnel, and the elderly.