PH detects COVID-19 UK variant

Maris Federez   •   January 13, 2021   •   513

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) officially confirmed the detection of the B.1.1.7. SARS-CoV-2 variant (UK variant) in the country.

This, after samples from a Filipino who arrived from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on January 7 yielded positive genome sequencing results, according to a DOH press release Wednesday (January 13) following strengthened biosurveillance and border control efforts of the two agencies.

The advisory said the patient is a male resident of Quezon City who departed for Dubai on December 27, 2020 for business purposes and arrived in the Philippines last January 7, 2021 via Emirates Flight No. EK 332.

After the positive was released, the patient was referred to a quarantine facility in Quezon City while his samples were sent to PGC for whole genome sequencing.

He was also accompanied by his female partner during his trip, but she tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 upon arrival. She, however, is currently under strict quarantine and monitoring.

The DOH said the two had no exposure to a confirmed case prior to their departure to Dubai nor had any travel activities outside Quezon City.

The health department immediately conducted contact tracing, in close coordination with the QC government. Contact tracers reported that the initially identified contacts are asymptomatic and currently under strict home quarantine.

The DOH said that they are continually working closely with the QC LGU to ensure that timely and effective measures are in place to mitigate transmission.

The agency has also secured the flight manifest of Emirates Flight No. EK 332 and contact tracing of other passengers is now underway.

Health authorities advise those who were aboard the said flight to get in touch with their Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs).

Meanwhile, the health department said that it will intensify the weekly genomic biosurveillance among incoming passengers, local cases, re-infected patients, and those with reported clustering of cases.

The DOH said it has also coordinated with the Department of Interior and Local Government for the expansion of contact tracing to include third-generation close contacts for known B.1.1.7 cases. All close contacts of confirmed B.1.1.7 cases shall also undergo strict 14-day facility-based quarantine, the advisory said.

The DOH is reiterating its call to national government agencies, local government units and the public for stricter observance of the minimum public health standards and stricter implementation of quarantine protocols to further mitigate the risk of acquiring the virus and slow down possible mutations.

IATF OKs use of Sinovac COVID-19 vax for healthcare workers

Robie de Guzman   •   February 26, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) has agreed with the recommendation of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) to use Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine for healthcare workers, the Department of Health (DOH) said Friday.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said NITAG experts have concluded that the vaccine will be beneficial and is sufficient to be used for healthcare workers despite its lower efficacy rate of 50.4% for those frequently exposed to COVID-19 patients.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), on Monday, issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) to Sinovac but did not recommend its use for health workers caring for COVID-19 patients due to its lower efficacy rate based on clinical trials conducted in Brazil.

Vergeire stressed that the FDA’s recommendation on Sinovac was not a contraindication and that this does not prohibit healthcare workers from getting the Sinovac jab.

“Ultimately, the EUA of FDA establishes the safety and efficacy of Sinovac and our experts have ruled that SINOVAC’s 100% efficacy rate in preventing moderate and severe cases is indeed sufficient to meet the goal of reducing deaths — protections which we want to afford first and foremost to our healthcare workers,” she said.

Experts from NITAG also emphasized that the vaccine is safe and that they themselves are prepared to receive a shot.

“In our deliberations what we looked at it is safety to ensure the vaccine is safe that has been borne out by the review of the trials,” Dr. Marissa Alejandira, DOH-TAG member, said.

“As for myself, as a healthcare worker who sees COVID-19 patients, I am willing to take this vaccine,” Dr. Edsel Salvana, also a DOH TAG member, said.

They, however, stressed that medical frontliners will not be forced to take the shot and that they will not lose their priority status if they chose to decline the Sinovac vaccine shot.

The DOH said it is now finalizing details on how to allocate the 600,000 Sinovac vaccine doses expected to arrive on Sunday, February 28. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Aiko Miguel)

DOH, NTF: Donated Sinovac jabs to arrive in PH over next few days but rollout on hold

Robie de Guzman   •   February 25, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) and the National Task Force COVID-19 (NTF) on Thursday confirmed that the COVID-19 vaccines made by China drug firm Sinovac will arrive in the country over the next few days but its rollout remains on hold.

The DOH and NTF issued the clarification following reports that the 600,000 vaccine doses donated by the Chinese government will be delivered to the country on February 28, Sunday, making it the first vaccine to arrive in the Philippines.

Malacañang earlier mentioned the possibility of starting the immunization program by March 1 following the vaccines’ arrival but the DOH and the NTF said its allocation and rollout schedule is still pending.

“The Department of Health and the National Task Force Against COVID-19 jointly clarify that as of press time, specific details as to the allocation and subsequent rollout of the 600,000 donated SINOVAC doses are still being evaluated pending the official recommendation of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) and its approval by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID),” the agencies said in a joint statement.

The DOH and NTF said an arrival ceremony for the vaccines will be held at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City but details of the program are still being finalized in coordination with the Chinese Embassy.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday issued an emergency use authorization to Sinovac but did not recommend its use for healthcare workers frequently exposed to COVID-19 patients due to its lower efficacy rate of 50.4% in clinical trials conducted in Brazil.

The FDA, however, clarified that healthcare workers may still get the Sinovac vaccine if they choose to. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Aiko Miguel)

DOH, FDA to probe Mon Tulfo’s alleged use of unauthorized COVID-19 vaccine

Robie de Guzman   •   February 24, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday said they would investigate reports on the use of smuggled vaccines against novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The DOH issued the statement following the admission of Special Envoy to China Ramon Tulfo that he received coronavirus jabs from China’s Sinopharm, which has not yet been authorized for use in the country.

Tulfo on Tuesday said he got inoculated with illegally procured vaccine last year with some Cabinet officials, a lawmaker and some of President Rodrigo Duterte’s security team.

The DOH warned the public that the use and distribution of smuggled vaccine is illegal.

“Ito po ay makakasama sa imbestigasyon and all of these things kapag nakita natin na hindi naayon sa mga batas na meron tayo dito sa ating bansa will be considered illegal,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a virtual briefing.

“Kung sinoman po yung mga kababayan natin, distributors or suppliers na nagbibigay ng mga bakuna na wala pang emergency use authority ay magkakaroon ng appropriate investigation and if there would be violations, magkaka-sanctions po,” she added.

Vergeire also stressed that vaccines need to undergo regulation and secure emergency use authorization (EUA) to ensure its safety and efficacy.

FDA Director General Eric Domingo said Sinopharm has yet to file an application for an EUA.

“As of now, wala pa pong nag-a-apply sa amin. ‘Yung Chinese Government, sumulat po sila kay Secretary (Carlito) Galvez informing him na wala silang local na distributor dito at hindi ko alam kung ano ang kanilang magiging applications po and strategy,” Domingo said.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, meanwhile, said that Malacañang will leave the investigation on the issue to the FDA.

He, however, stressed that taking illegally procured COVID-19 vaccines is not a policy of the Duterte administration.

“Wala pong ganiyang polisiya dahil kung may ganiyan pong polisiya, siguro commercial quantity na ang kumalat noong mga bakuna na hindi naaprubahan. Pero inaantay po talaga natin ang aksiyon ng FDA sa mga bagay-bagay na ito,” Roque said.

To recall, some members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) were revealed to have taken unauthorized coronavirus vaccine shots in December.

The FDA and the National Bureau of Investigation are undertaking separate investigations into the matter.

Domingo said the PSG has yet to respond to FDA’s inquiry into their illegal inoculation. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Rosalie Coz)

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