Tony Leachon, former special adviser to the National Task Force against COVID-19 (NTF), recently questioned the efficacy and costs of the vaccine being developed by a China-based pharmaceutical company that is expected to arrive in the Philippines next year.
The government is eyeing to finalize negotiations with Sinovac Biotech Ltd. this week to acquire 25 million doses of the Chinese company’s COVID-19 vaccine for delivery by March.
Leachon then questioned the government for prioritizing Sinovac’s vaccine despite the lack of efficacy and safety data, and also the costs of it compared to others.
These remarks, however, earned the ire of Malacañang and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr.
In a press briefing on Monday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque bared that President Rodrigo Duterte was displeased with Leachon and accused the latter of having politically-motivated views.
“Alam mo, tatapatin ko na si Dr. Leachon. Na-edit lang po sa mga Talk to the People pero ang daming beses na po kayong namura ng Presidente. Kasi ang sabi niya kung anu-ano ang sinasabi mo iyon pala nagnanais ka lang ng posisyon sa gobyerno. Next time po murahin kayo ni Presidente I would insist it would be shown to the people,” Roque said.
“Baka akalain ninyo eh natutuwa ang Presidente sa inyo, hindi po! All the other Cabinet members who have been in the attendance in the recording of the Talk to the People can attest to this,” he added.
Galvez later concurred and described Leachon as being in his own “bubble” back when they were colleagues in the task force.
In June, Leachon was eased out of his position as special adviser to the NTF after he bared some issues involving the public health system online.
Meanwhile, in a tweet on Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddy” Locsin Jr. also dipped his toes in the issue and questioned Leachon’s credibility, saying he used to work for Pfizer Inc, the US-based pharmaceutical company that is a co-developer of a vaccine with 95% efficacy rate.
Pfizer’s co-developer is Germany biotechnology firm BioNTech SE.
Leachon immediately responded to Locsin and clarified that he no longer has ties with Pfizer since he resigned from the company in 2010.
I retired from Pfizer in 2010. I disclosed that when I accepted one DOH peso consultant in 2012 , Philhealth director post AND in my other advocacy work, Sec. @teddyboylocsin – Good morning. I have no links or stocks in any company. https://t.co/cDV6e4J2Hh
— Tony Leachon MD (@DrTonyLeachon) December 15, 2020
Leachon’s comments on Sinovac’s vaccines
Leachon first flagged China’s Sinovac’s vaccines on Sunday wherein he tweeted: “We need to review efficacy and safety data. This is a must. I’m raising a red flag.”
He also cited a report saying that another vaccine-maker from China, Sinopharm, and two others from Europe passed the ethics review board as confirmed by the Department of Health.
Only the approval of the Food and Drug Administration is needed for them to start conducting clinical trials in the country.
We need to review efficacy and safety data. This is a must. I’m raising a red flag🚩
Pumasa sa Vaccine Expert Panel technical review ang bakuna kontra COVID-19 ng Sinovac at Clover Biopharmaceuticals–parehong mula sa China.
— Tony Leachon MD (@DrTonyLeachon) December 13, 2020
On Monday, Leachon continued to criticize the government’s decision to prioritize Sinovac’s vaccine and questioned its lack of transparency.
“Isn’t it disturbing that the government is still prioritizing the vaccines for which there are not enough safety and efficacy data? Perhaps we need to know the matrix or guidelines on their priority list. Transparency is key. Safety is paramount,” he said.
Isn't it disturbing that the government is still prioritizing the vaccines for which they're are not enough safety and efficacy data? Perhaps we need to know the matrix or guidelines on their priority list. Transparency is key. Safety is paramount.
— Tony Leachon MD (@DrTonyLeachon) December 14, 2020
In another tweet, Leachon compared the cost of Sinovac vaccines citing an infographic from a news outlet.
“Aside from the lack of credible efficacy and safety data, Sinovac is the most expensive among the vaccines,” he said.
Leachon also reacted to Galvez and the Palace’s statements and said that he was only airing his concerns given his expertise in the medical field.
“I’m raising a red flag on efficacy and safety data on the vaccines so we can procure the right vaccine for our country. I have gained that level of expertise and experience as a physician involved in many disciplines of healthcare,” Leachon said.
In an interview with ANC on Tuesday, Leachon defended his comments on the Chinese-developed vaccine.
“I was just asking a fair, scientific question in order to gain the confidence of the people in terms of vaccination,” Leachon said.
The latest on Sinovac
Clinical trials of Sinovac had already started in Indonesia and the Brazil.
Last week, Indonesia’s state-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma said that the efficacy of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac could not yet be determined, after previously saying that interim data showed 97% efficacy.
The interim report from the Phase III trial is expected to be available in January 2021.
On the other hand, Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa last Monday said China’s health authorities are not transparent in their authorization of COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use, a statement that may further inflame political tension in the South American country. —With reports from Reuters