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Zubiri: COVID-19 vaccines only 50% effective 'total waste of funds'

Vaccines against COVID-19 that have only a 50% efficacy rate will be a "total waste" of public funds, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said Friday.

The senator appealed to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to look at vaccines that have a high efficacy rate instead of considering "political or geopolitical reasons."

"Safety of our people should come first, not the feelings of our Neighboring Friends," Zubiri said in a message to reporters.

He said safety, efficacy, pricing, and ease of distribution and implementation are all factors to consider in providing Filipinos a vaccine that would protect them against COVID-19.

He said manufacturers like Pfizer and AstraZeneca have higher efficacy rates and different cold storage requirements.

"That's why the plan to get vaccines with only a 50% efficacy rate is totally unacceptable and a total waste of our funds and resources. That means there’s a 50/50 chance of you getting COVID even after being vaccinated is a joke!"  Zubiri said.

"Again it means one out of two Filipinos could still be infected, which is delikado lalo na sa senior citizens, frontliners and those with co-morbidities," he added, stressing that this was "totally unacceptable."

Zubiri said the Senate will closely monitor the government's vaccine purchase deals and will hear rollout plans starting the first week of January.

"Hindi kami papayag na ibibigay sa ating mga kababayans 'yung mga bakunang palpak at walang silbi sa pag bigay proteksyon sa COVID-19," he said.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), one of the Philippine bodies that will determine whether a vaccine is up to standard, said last week that COVID-19 vaccines need to be at least 60 to 70% effective to get approval.

“Generally, it should be 60% to 70% effective. That is the minimum requirement,” FDA Director General Eric Domingo said in an ANC interview.

“Most vaccines pass [FDA regulation] if they have 60% to 70% efficacy rate. But of course, the higher [percentage of efficacy rate], the better,” he said.

Malacañang said the vaccine developed by China's Sinovac remains the Philippines' top pick for its COVID-19 immunization plans despite bribery claims hounding the company and amid concerns on its efficacy and higher cost compared to other candidate vaccines.

Sinovac ‘s COVID-19 vaccines were found to have a 50% efficacy in a late-stage trial in Brazil. Meanwhile, Pfizer's vaccine was 95% effective according to final results from its late-stage trial. AstraZeneca's vaccine is 90% effective if the vaccine was administered as a half dose followed by a full dose.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said the government is buying from Sinovac because it could not immediately secure shots from Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Moderna.

Though there are plans to buy the Pfizer vaccine, it may arrive only in the second and third quarter of 2021, he said.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr. earlier said the Philippines is eyeing to secure 25 million doses from Sinovac by March.

Drilon said Galvez should carefully consider safety and efficacy and wait for clearer scientific guidelines "to determine whether Sinovac is worth offering to our people."

"It is most important that we get our vaccination program started in 2021 with the best possible combination of vaccines we can procure," the senator said.

"There is a global shortage of vaccines and we should focus on vaccinating our priority segments," Drilon said, referring to frontliners and high-risk populations.

Domingo has assured the public that no COVID-19 vaccine will be administered in the country unless it passes FDA scrutiny.

“Hindi sila makakapasok unless ito ay safe and effective,” Domingo said.

The Philippines has already secured 2.6 million doses -- good for a million people -- of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca-Oxford, an initiative funded by the private sector for donation to the government. -MDM, GMA News