THE Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering an “age cap” for the Pfizer vaccine for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) after Norwegian health officials reported a small number of elderly patients dying shortly after receiving the vaccine.
“We will wait for the report and updates from Pfizer and make any needed age cap before the vaccine is used in the Philippines,” FDA Director Eric Domingo told The Manila Times on Sunday.
The agency handed the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine an Emergency Use Authorization on Thursday, paving the way for its rollout.
Last week, the Norwegian Medicines Agency said it had investigated the deaths of 13 patients, all of them over 80 years old, who suffered a fatal side effect after inoculated with the Pfizer vaccine.
Norwegian health officials advised doctors to vaccinate those who are frail and elderly only after a careful individual assessment.
Domingo said he was confident an age cap would not derail the government’s Covid immunization program, which prioritizes the elderly.
“Konti ‘yan (They are few), so it won’t affect the prioritization by a lot even when it happens,” he added.
A public health expert downplayed the deaths in Norway, saying they might just be “coincidental to the vaccination.”
“They see about 400 deaths per week in this population on a regular basis so it may all just be coincidental to the vaccination,” Dr. Edsel Salvana of the Department of Health’s technical advisory group said in a post.
“Norwegian health authorities are investigating deaths in elderly people who got the Pfizer vaccine, but they do not think the vaccines killed them,” he said.
“If anything, otherwise mild side effects in younger people may stress out older people with lots of chronic problems,” Salvana pointed out. “The action point is to be more careful with older populations and evaluate carefully.”
Salvana noted that Norway did not think that the recent development “was concerning enough to halt the vaccination program.”
He also called for more responsible reporting and encouraged the public to “read past the headlines” as the recent developments could erode Filipino’s vaccine confidence, which already appeared to be low, based on recent surveys.
In a poll by Pulse Asia, nearly half of 2,400 respondents said they would skip vaccination, while 32 percent are willing to take the jab.
Questions were also raised about the pricing for the vaccine developed by the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech.
In a radio interview on Sunday, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. again denied that the Sinovac vaccine is the most expensive in the market.
Roque said the vaccine costs around P650 per dose.
He described as fake news reports that China was asking P3,600 per dose for the vaccine.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan has called on the government to rethink its purchase of Sinovac, saying the vaccine is six times more expensive than AstraZeneca’s product.
Roque said the Sinovac vaccine was offered to the Philippines at a reasonable price because of the close ties between the two countries.
During his visit to President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi announced that China would donate 500,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines to the Philippines.
The Philippine government has secured 25 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine.
Roque reiterated that the President would not allow a vaccine to be administered to the public unless it is approved by the country’s vaccine expert panel.