By Deighton Acuin

PHOTO: Philippine Star

Malacañang said Saturday only healthcare workers can refuse to be injected with coronavirus vaccines from China-based Sinovac Biotech without losing priority status once other brands are available.

Roque earlier said Filipinos cannot afford to be “picky” with vaccines. The pronouncement then criticized even by lawmakers. The Palace official, however, explained that only one brand was expected soon, and anything approved by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proven safe for usage.

This week, the FDA granted emergency use authorization for Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine, which will be the first to be rolled out in the country. The 600,000 doses donated by the Chinese government will arrive on Sunday, to be welcomed by President Rodrigo Duterte and other officials. The FDA earlier flagged that the CoronaVac is not recommended for medical workers exposed to COVID-19 patients because it has a low efficacy rate of 50.4% for this group.

With this recommendation, Roque said, the healthcare workers will now have the opportunity on which vaccine brands they want to receive other than Sinovac.

“Ang pagbabago po sa ating protocol, kung ayaw po ng health care worker ang Sinovac, pupwede po siyang tumanggi at hindi mawawala ‘yung kanyang prayoridad kapag dumating na yung bakunang gusto niya,” Roque said in an online media briefing.

“Pero pang health care workers lang po ‘yan ah. Sa lahat po kinakailangan pa rin talaga, kung ano po ang naririyan ay tatanggapin natin. Kung ayaw naman po ay wala talagang sapilitan,” Roque quickly clarified.

He also stressed Sinovac’s vaccine is safe and effective, which is why the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) approved its usage on health workers, as per experts’ recommendation.

Department of Health Undersecretary and Spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire clarified while Sinovac showed lower efficacy of preventing mild symptoms in clinical trials, it is 100% effective against moderate and severe patients. It means it can effective reduce mortality and morbidity — the main goal for including health workers on the priority list in the government’s vaccination program.

Also in the government’s vaccination priority list are indigent senior citizens, remaining senior citizens, remaining indigent population, and uniformed personnel, followed by other essential workers.