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Sen. Tito Sotto calls out FDA for ‘bad-mouthing’ Sinovac on the limited use of the COVID-19 vaccine

While Sotto’s comments may seem ill-informed–an issue got revealed about COVID-19 vaccines.

Senator Vicente ‘Tito’ Sotto III is not known for nuggets of knowledge among Netizens, but he seemed to have shown a bit of grace in his recent Senate speech.

During today’s Senate session, Sotto said the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “bad-mouthed” Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac that said–its COVID-19 vaccine (CoronaVac) is not recommendable for healthcare workers.

“I’m disturbed by a statement coming from the FDA, na parang sinisiraan pa ‘yong Sinovac, eh… We should exercise caution in saying things like that, na hindi pwede sa health workers,” he said during the plenary discussion on the proposed COVID Vaccination Program Act.

While his next statements did not add up, Sotto did raise a valid point—something which was later confirmed by healthcare advocate Dr. Tony Leachon.

In his tweet, Leachon said, “FDA’s approval is fraught with communication risks. More strategic in the indications based on their analysis of the Sinovac studies like AZ vaccine eg 60 to 90% w/o restrictions to age and population so public will not be confused and question the efficacy rate of the vaccine.”

In an interview, Leachon said with CNN Philippines that the FDA did its job and its challenge is to communicate the risks properly.

To quote the United Nations’ specialized agency, “The World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday it is “unable to comment” for now on Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommendation not to use Sinovac’s Covid-19 vaccine to elderly people and healthcare workers at high risk of exposure to the coronavirus.”

In its statement, WHO country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe said that the United Nations’ specialized agency responsible for international public health is ‘unable to comment’ since it is ‘not privy to information that came out from trials that the manufacturers have shared’.

This information, according to Abeyasinghe, might have led the FDA to decide on limiting the use of CoronaVac.

How problematic is FDA’s recommendation?

The limitations placed by the FDA on CoronaVac have gotten reactions not just from Sotto and Leachon, but other members of Congress as well.

House Minority Leader Joseph Stephen Paduano called out the FDA on its ‘half-baked’ issuance of an emergency use authority for Sinovac.

Paduano expressed a similar concern to Sotto’s that the FDA allegedly put the image of the Sinovac vaccine in a bad light. He added that the FDA further eroded public trust and confidence in inoculation.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate expressed his concerns with the government’s insistence on CoronaVac.

He said, “Saan na ba napunta ang pinangutang na maraming COVID-19 related loans at nahuhuli ang Pilipinas na magbayad ng downpayment? ‘Di mo tuloy masisi ang mga kababayan natin na mag-isip na may pinapaboran na talaga ang ilang opisyales na vaccine.”

His statement would be echoed by the Alliance of Health Workers, saying “it made them believe that the government’s focus is not on health and safety, but rather on ‘profits and gains behind their contracts’.”

FDA has said that it is still safe to use Sinovac shots—at least on people less exposed to the virus as COVID-19 health workers.

“Hindi naman namin siya ipinagbabawal na gamitin. Ang rekomendasyon lang namin, kung ikaw ay COVID-19 health care worker, this might not be the best vaccine for you assuming mayroong choices available,” FDA Dir. Gen. Eric Domingo said in a report from CNN Philippines.

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