Juxtaposed: Elderly world leaders took Sinovac jab while Filipino officials cite old age

March 1, 2021 - 6:41 PM
A worker unloads a box of Sinovac Biotech's CoronaVac vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from a Chinese military aircraft at Villamor Air Base in Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines, February 28, 2021. (Reutertes/Eloisa Lopez)

Some government officials, who earlier announced willingness to take Sinovac‘s coronavirus vaccine (CoronaVac), did not take the shots, citing their old age.

Their case was juxtaposed to other high-ranking leaders in other countries who received the jab from the Beijing-based pharmaceutical company despite their age.

On Sunday, Sen. Bong Go said that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III will get the Sinovac jab on March 1 at the Lung Center of the Philippines to build public confidence in the government’s vaccination program.

However, the Department of Health said Duque will not take the Sinovac shots.

“FTD (Francisco T. Duque) will not be vaccinated with SINOVAC as EUA (emergency use authorization) provisions exclude 60 and above. He also underscores that we will follow the prioritization framework, and will ensure that limited doses will go to the HCWs (healthcare workers) first,” the health department told reporters on Sunday night.

Duque is 64 years old, considered a senior citizen in the Philippines.

Last December, it was reported that the health secretary was then willing to be among the first ones to take a COVID-19 vaccine once it arrives in the country to allay people’s fears about vaccine safety.

On February 26, Duque changed tune and said that while he would be willing to get inoculated with Sinovac, his old age might become an issue given the Food and Drug Administration‘s emergency use authorization (EUA).

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who claimed that he initially volunteered to be the first ones to get vaccinated, also said that his age impeded him from getting Sinovac jab.

“I volunteered to be among the first to be vaccinated but was told that I’m not qualified based on Sinovac’s age limit (18-59). I wanted to lead by example to not cast doubt against Sinovac and hopefully bring confidence among DND personnel. Just to clarify,” he tweeted on Monday.

President Rodrigo Duterte won’t similarly get a jab of Sinovac for the same reason, despite personally welcoming the 600,000 doses donated by the Chinese government on Sunday.

The chief executive will turn 76 this month.

Malacañang said that Duterte has expressed preference for Sinopharm, a state-owned Chinese biotech firm that has a higher efficacy rate of 72.5%, according to its Wuhan unit.

FDA granted Sinovac an EUA but said that it does not recommend it for healthcare workers and the elderly due to its varying efficacy rates.

READ: Philippines approves Sinovac vaccine but not for all health workers

It later clarified that the healthcare workers are not prohibited from taking it.

The National Immunization Technical Advisory Group, meanwhile, recommended Sinovac for the medical frontliners but added that they can opt out if they wanted to.

The Chinese firm has not yet submitted its Phase 3 clinical trial data to medical journals for peer review.

Late-stage trials in Indonesia revealed that Sinovac has an efficacy rate of 65.3%, while a study conducted in Turkey showed that it has an efficacy rate of 91.25%. Both were conducted as community trials.

On the other hand, Brazil trial showed that it has an efficacy rate of 50.4%, which was just above the threshold that the World Health Organization uses to determine if a vaccine is worth using. Its trial likewise involved healthcare workers exposed to the virus.

However, the DOH said that the same study found Sinovac to be “100% effective in staving off moderate to severe cases.”

Some Filipinos noticed that the Philippine officials cited their old age and compared them to high-ranking leaders in other countries who took the CoronaVac jab despite being elderlies.

Carlo Trinidad, a licensed internal medicine specialist-nephrologist, called it a “convenient alibi” and then shared some names of other leaders who were inoculated with Sinovac in a Twitter thread.

“Walang EUA EUA when it concerns HCWs (healthcare workers) pero sila exempted because of age,” another Twitter user wrote with an eyeroll emoji.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, 63, was vaccinated with Sinovac last week, together with other top Hong Kong officials.

The move was done to bolster the public’s confidence.

“This requires the full collaboration of the people of Hong Kong to help Hong Kong’s society to recover as soon as possible,” Lam said before.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, 72, was also inoculated with CoronaVac in January for a similar reason.

He said that he and other senior members of the AK Party, a political party in Turkey, would all be getting vaccinated that time.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, 59, also received his Sinovac jab the same month as Erdoğan.