POSTSCRIPT / May 27, 2021 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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63% of adult Pinoys prefer US vaccines

WHILE a representative survey sample of 1,200 adult Filipinos is split into three equal groups as to their willingness to be vaccinated against COVID-19, some 63 percent of those polled prefer US-made vaccines if they were to be inoculated.

The survey results on the preferred country of origin posted May 24 on the Social Weather Stations website gave us an impression that the vaccination issue has been muddled by political chatter, confusing market messaging, and a wavering trust in some officials.

The SWS said its April 28 – May 2 survey found 63 percent of adult Filipinos choosing the US as their preferred source of vaccines, distantly followed by China (19%), Japan (13%), Australia (13%), United Kingdom (13%), Canada (12%), Russia (12%), and India (3%).

The responses set one wondering since some of the countries (such as Japan, Australia, and Canada) are not selling or giving vaccines to the Philippines. As for India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, the pandemic has hit it so hard that it suspended its serum exports.

The preference for US brands may have been validated recently when throngs rushed as early as 2 a.m. to a vaccination site in Manila after hearing that Pfizer vaccines would be given out there. In other sites using China’s Sinovac, some people dragged their feet.

This prompted the health department to enforce a “brand agnostic” policy, which means that there will be no advance notice of the brands to be used. Those lining up will just have to accept or reject what they find at the point of injection.

Only the vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech (US), Oxford-AstraZeneca (UK), Moderna (US), Sinovac Biotech (China), Gamaleya Research Institute (Russia), Johnson & Johnson (US), and Bharat Biotech (India) have been given emergency use authority (EUA) in the country.

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THE SURVEY was conducted during the third month of the government’s vaccination program. At the time, over 8 million doses of vaccines had been delivered, including those from Sinovac (5.5 million), AstraZeneca (2.5 million), and Gamaleya’s Sputnik V (30,000). The first batch from Pfizer (193,050 doses) arrived a week after the survey on May 10.

Despite his claimed “excellent” approval rating, Duterte’s bias for China appears to have dampened public acceptance of the dominant Sinovac vaccine. Smuggled doses of China’s other brand, Sinopharm, have been injected on presidential guards and Duterte himself.

Pressing vaccine diplomacy, China has been supplying “vaccine aid” to 53 countries and exporting to 27, including the Philippines. Sinopharm, however, has no EUA from the Food and Drugs Administration.

President Duterte, 76, had his first Sinopharm shot on May 3, his publicized injection calculated to boost trust in vaccination and the Chinese brands (mainly CoronaVac of Sinovac) that he has been promoting.

Vice President Leni Robredo, 56, had her first jab of AstraZeneca on May 19 in Quezon City.

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IN AN earlier post (May 20), SWS reported that 18 percent of respondents were very confident, 34 percent somewhat confident, 31 percent uncertain, 12 percent somewhat not confident, and 5 percent not at all confident about the government’s evaluation of the vaccines.

The health department is moving to achieve herd immunity by fully vaccinating 70 million of the estimated 110-million population. That number is deemed enough to deprive the coronavirus of the human bodies it needs to spread.

President Duterte has said that herd immunity would be achieved by Christmas. But with the delayed arrival of vaccines, their slow distribution, and the hesitance of a big number of would-be vaccinees, experts are uncertain if his yearend target could be met.

People waiting for their preferred brands, the widespread misinformation, bad messaging from the government, and memories of the 2016 rollout of the Dengvaxia dengue fever vaccine that put thousands of children at risk, have contributed to the hesitation.

Former health secretary Manuel Dayrit said that vaccination has to be ramped up to at least 350,000 to 500,000 jabs a day to hit the herd immunity target. The other day the national total was reportedly only 4.1 million shots made at 100,000 to 160,000 per day.

Experts say that at the rate the vaccination has been crawling, even assuming no unusual upsurge breaks out, it may take until the middle of 2023 to achieve herd immunity.

As of May 20, a tally of vaccines administered in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations had the Philippines languishing at No. 9 with only 3.39 doses injected per 100 persons.

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THE SURVEY also asked, “If you could choose the brand of vaccine, which would you choose?” Respondents were given a random list of 10 FDA-approved vaccines and allowed to pick more than one.

The top selections were Sinovac (39%) and Pfizer (32%), followed by AstraZeneca (22%) and Johnson & Johnson (10%). The rest were: Moderna (7%), CureVac (3%), Sinopharm (3%), Novavax (3%), Sanofi-GSK (3%), and Gamaleya (2%).Seventy-six percent of those who chose China as their preferred source also chose Sinovac.

For still unknown reasons, Pfizer (43%) and Sinovac (41%) were equally chosen by those who prefer the US as the country of origin. For the rest of the countries tested, brand preferences showed no clear connection with the country of origin.

The US is the most preferred country-origin in all areas and education levels. It rated 66% in the Visayas, 65% in Balance Luzon, 63% in Metro Manila, and 54% in Mindanao. Preference for the US rises with education: highest among college graduates (67%), followed by junior high school graduates (66%), elementary graduates (58%), and non-elementary graduates (55%).

Sinovac is the most preferred brand in Mindanao (44%) and the Visayas (44%). On the other hand, Sinovac and Pfizer are equally preferred in Metro Manila (both at 37%) and Balance Luzon (36% and 33%, respectively).

[Disclosure: The author, a Filipino, had his first dose of Pfizer vaccine on Feb. 26 and his second on March 19, both in the US. He took Pfizer because it was the only brand available in the vaccination center.]

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 27, 2021)

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