Editorial: Sending mixed signals

It looks like the national government has hit yet another snag with its vaccination program.

It has been dealing with a low turnout despite many assurances that the vaccines currently available against coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) are safe.

Even health care workers who were first in line to receive protection against the disease were initially reluctant to get injected. But as of April 6, just over half, or 51 percent, of the target 131,781 recipients in Central Visayas had been inoculated.

Now that the government is preparing to roll out the vaccine for senior citizens and those with comorbidities, it has discovered that less than half of that segment of the population have registered. In the case of Cebu City, the number is even lower. Only 11 percent had registered for inoculation.

Then on Thursday, April 8, 2021, the Department of Health (DOH) central office dropped a bombshell that will set back public confidence on the vaccine to the middle of the Dengvaxia controversy.

The DOH suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for those below 60 years old “in the wake of reports linking it to blood clots and low platelet counts.”

Granted, the health department was only adopting the recommendation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which took note of the recommendation of the European Medicines Agency “to list blood clots as very rare side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

However, the DOH and the FDA didn’t explain why it would be okay to vaccinate senior citizens and people with pre-existing medical conditions with AstraZeneca. Nor did they explain what “blood clots” or “low platelet counts” would mean to an ordinary person.

FDA Director General Rolando Enrique Domingo then went on to emphasize that “the suspension does not mean the vaccine is unsafe or ineffective” against Covid-19.

He even urged those eligible to receive the vaccine — health care workers, senior citizens and persons with comorbidities — to go ahead and get it. But what if the health worker is below 60 years old or does not have any comorbidity? Will he or she still be eligible?

Domingo, in a statement, said the development only means that the government is “taking precautionary measures to ensure the safety of every Filipino.”

In effect, he is telling Filipinos to adopt a “wait-and-see” attitude until the FDA gets the green light from local experts and the World Health Organization, even though the National Adverse Events Following Immunization Committee has not received any local reports of “blood clots” and “low platelet count.”

In the meantime, the inactivated Sinovac vaccine, originally approved for adults 18 to 59 years old, was recently cleared for those 60 years old and above.

Go figure.