Malacañang should question safety and efficacy of China vax, says Leachon

Dr. Tony Leachon and President Rodrigo Duterte. Photos: Leachon/FB; PCOO/FB
Dr. Tony Leachon and President Rodrigo Duterte. Photos: Leachon/FB; PCOO/FB

Dr. Tony Leachon, who has been put on blast by members of the Duterte administration, today questioned anew the safety of the China-made coronavirus vaccine Sinovac, which the Philippine government intends to purchase for a mass immunization program next year.

Spokesman Harry Roque said yesterday that President Rodrigo Duterte has been cursing at the cardiologist during his publicly broadcast briefings because the chief executive was reportedly unhappy over Leachon’s remarks about the government’s less-than-ideal response to the pandemic.

Roque said this in reaction to Leachon’s warning about the safety of Sinovac, which has yet to be approved by the local Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and whose manufacturer allegedly bribed Chinese regulators to gain approval. He also alleged that Leachon was planning to run for public office to explain why the doctor was critical of the planned use of the controversial vaccine.

In an interview with cable channel ANC, Leachon said that it was apparent that the Duterte government was “not open to suggestions and criticisms” from a medical expert.

“[T]hey might take it in a different light when you suggest certain things. So I am not surprised that this has been the reaction. My only surprise is that they did not answer the question on the efficacy and safety data and resort to those kinds of assaults which I think would be unfair to my personality,” Leachon said.

Leachon pointed out that the China-made vaccine has yet to receive any emergency use authorization from the government. He said that he was just making a “fair, scientific question” when he raised the possibility that Sinovac could be unsafe.

“[There’s] not even an FDA approval to warrant the ordering of a particular volume of stock that will start [to be given] in March. So, basically, that is the premise of the situation why I was questioning the efficacy rate and the safety data considering that particular drug was started [to be used] in mass vaccination in China when the vaccine has not yet finished Phase 3 trials,” the doctor said.

The doctor, who was forced to resign from the anti-COVID task force early this year, said that Duterte’s office still invited him to work as an adviser despite his exit. He also said that one Cabinet official, whom he did not name, said that the president’s alleged public cursing was untrue.

“[But] if ever those statements by Secretary Harry Roque were true then we just have to accept it,” Leachon said.

The Philippine government is now in the final stage of negotiations of acquiring 25 million doses of Sinovac, which will be delivered in March. Meanwhile, Filipino private companies have purchased 2.6 million shots of the vaccine produced by AstraZeneca, which will be delivered in May or June.

The Philippines has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia, with 450,733 recorded as of yesterday. The figure includes 418,723 recoveries and 8,757 deaths.

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