THE House Committee on Health received briefing from various experts on the efforts of the scientific community to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Quezon Representative Angelina “Helen” Tan, chairperson of the health panel, said the briefing seeks to communicate the current efforts of the government, assess key issues, identify gaps and challenges, and pave the way for a robust collaborative endeavour to face the present COVID-19 health crisis.
The briefing, which was led by key officials from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and Department of Health (DOH) and other stakeholders, highlighted the World Health Organization (WHO) Solidarity Trial study for COVID-19 vaccines, specifically on their safety and efficacy; the study on the mix and match of COVID-19 vaccine brands and platforms; and the immunosurveillance study on the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines in the real world.
DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña said the main objective of the Solidarity Trial is to evaluate the efficacy of a two-dose regimen of SARS-CoV-2 candidate vaccines against RT-PCR confirmed symptomatic COVID-19.
“The participation in the Solidarity Vaccine Trials is one of the best strategies that will allow the Philippines to avail newer COVID-19 vaccine candidates which are already in the later or more advanced stages of vaccine development,” he said.
He pointed out that ongoing study to evaluate the safety and immunogenicity of mixing different COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine platforms in Filipino adults will address supply shortages through the proposed interchanging or mixing and matching administration of available COVID-19 vaccines in the country, as well as offer flexibility in the administration of the second dose.
Meanwhile, clinical and serologic surveillance among adult individuals who have been fully vaccinated will help confirm real world vaccine effectiveness, which will be of immediate benefit to vaccinated individuals, health facilities, and the government as well as contribute in addressing data gaps in the immune response elicited both by natural infection and vaccination.
Experts, however, reminded the public of the limitations of COVID-19 antibody, or serology, testing.
“While antibody tests are important in identifying individuals who may have been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and those who may have developed an adaptive immune response, antibody tests should not be used at this time to determine protection or immunity against COVID-19, especially after a person has received a COVID-19 vaccination,” explained Dr. Regina Berba, of the University of the Philippines, Manila – National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has previously warned that antibody tests are not one-size-fits-all and that misinterpreting antibody test results could lead people to take fewer precautions than necessary, or cause vaccine hesitancy on the part of the public. Experts pointed out that the vaccines themselves can lead to positive antibody results on some tests, and on the other hand, a lack of antibodies detected does not mean that a vaccinated person did not have a protective immune response.
Tan, a medical doctor, reiterated the experts’ call against the antibody tests.
“I would like to call on the DOH and other concerned agencies to closely monitor and regulate health facilities that are offering serology testing among adult individuals who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to protect the integrity of the government’s vaccination program and promote vaccine confidence among the Filipinos” Tan said.