Public confidence in Covid-19 vaccine shaken by lack of information

Public confidence in Covid-19 vaccine shaken by lack of information

By Tracy Cabrera

File photo shows a patient being inoculated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine in clinical trials. The vaccine has reportedly shown robust immune response, particularly among older adults that contracted the disease.

MANILA – Amidst the hullaballoo of reports that at least 80 percent of the vaccines against Covid-19 has been cornered already by rich countries like the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, Filipinos are in a quandary whether to trust the efficacy of the vaccine with government officials themselves challenging one another to advise taking it once the medicine has been rolled out in the country middle of 2021.

Health secretary Francisco Duque III as well as President Rodrigo Duterte himself has expressed willingness to be given the first shot of the Covid-19 vaccine but a recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey indicated that only 32 percent of Pinoys would “definitely” have themselves vaccinated even as another 34 percent would “probably” take the vaccine.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that for herd immunity against the virus to kick in, 60 to 70 percent of the population should be immunized.

According to the health department, the Philippines will get 2.6 million shots of a potential Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca under the country’s first supply deal for a coronavirus vaccine. This supply, to be paid for by the private sector, will inoculate just over one million Filipinos as the British drug maker’s vaccine requires two doses.

Top coronavirus task force official Carlito Galvez Jr. added that authorities were also discussing with AstraZeneca a possible 1 million more doses.

Those agreed would cover about one percent of the country’s population of more than 108 million, two-third of which the government hopes to inoculate. The Duterte administration is likewise seeking 20 to 50 million doses from China’s Sinovac and US firm Pfizer among others.

Senator health committee chair Senator Christopher ‘Bong’ Go had earlier challenged Duque and to get vaccinated in order to show to the citizenry that the Covid-19 vaccine is safe. In August, Senator Francis Tolentino made a similar dare to the health chief.

According to presidential spokesperson Atty. Harry Roque, President Duterte, who also wanted to get vaccinated, would be the best communication tool to gain the public’s trust in the vaccine’s efficacy.

“So, if the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) would allow it, I think the President would be first and he has volunteered. In fact, he really wants to do it,” Roque enthused.

Last Sunday, December 7, vice president Maria Leonor ‘Leni’ Robredo said on her radio show that she supported proposals that public officials be the first to get vaccinated, citing the offer of former United States presidents Barack Obama, George Bush and Bill Clinton to be vaccinated to help increase public trust in vaccines.

But that must be done “for the right reasons,” she quickly added.

“If the purpose of having them go first is to boost public confidence in vaccination, that’s OK. But it’s not right to (push for this proposal) if your goal is to be the first to be protected against the disease,” she pointed out.

Robredo reiterated her proposal that health workers—the ones most vulnerable to Covid-19—be the first to be vaccinated.

Meanwhile, in his regular media briefing, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while he was open to being vaccinated against Covid-19, he wanted to make sure it was already his turn “because I don’t want to take anybody’s vaccine.”

Given that available doses are expected to be limited next year, medical front-liners are the top priority for vaccination.

And amid the dares to take the vaccine as well as the barrage of falsehoods from antivaccine groups, health undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire has stressed that once a Covid-19 vaccine is rolled out in the country, the public can rest assured that this has been properly scrutinized by health experts and government regulators.

“Once these vaccines enter the country, these will be evaluated by the vaccine expert panel and the Food and Drug Administration. So, there is nothing to worry about these vaccines because they have been tested to be safe and have met their target efficacy,” Vergeire disclosed.

“The secretary of health and the entire DoH (Department of Health), if I may say, are open and if it is needed that we be the first to be vaccinated, we will have ourselves vaccinated,” she added.

To help ensure that the public is provided with the right information on the Covid-19 vaccine, Vergeire said that the DoH had prepared a communication plan where local officials will help explain to their constituents the advantages as well as the expected side effects that are inherent to the vaccine.

To have an effective pandemic response, Dr. Anthony Leachon cited the ‘Swiss cheese model,’ which points out that “no single intervention is perfect at preventing (Covid-19’s) spread.”

“Government message and funding are key factors to vaccine rollout success,” said Leachon, a former adviser to the government’s Covid-19 response.

Vergeire said that of the five manufacturers eyeing to hold clinical trials in the country, only China’s Clover Biopharmaceuticals has obtained clearance from both the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine expert panel and the ethics review board.

So far, AstraZeneca and Johnson&Johnson have been cleared only by the ethics review board, while Sinovac has secured the approval of the vaccine expert panel.

Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute has yet to pass both evaluations, which are done in parallel and precede the FDA’s approval.

Vergeire, however, said the FDA was already “gathering initial information” on all five so that it could already start the documentary evaluation of their applications. (AI/MTVN)

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