MANILA – The Philippines is on track with its negotiation for coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) vaccines with pharmaceutical firm Pfizer, Philippine Ambassador to Washington D.C. Jose Manuel Romualdez assured Thursday.
“We are still on track for the Pfizer vaccine but most likely (the) delivery will be mid next year once Secretary (Carlito) Galvez, Jr. gives the order,” he said in a text message.
The Philippines could have secured some 10 million doses of vaccine from the American pharmaceutical giant as early as January 2021, but according to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., the deal did not push through after “someone dropped the ball”.
“Thanks just the same to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo we– Babe Romualdez and I– got 10 million doses of Pfizer financed by World Bank and ADB (Asian Development Bank) to be shipped thru FEDEX to Clark in January. But someone dropped the ball,” Locsin wrote in a tweet on Dec. 15.
The Filipino top diplomat, however, did not mention who he was alluding to.
Citing a conversation with Romualdez, Senator Panfilo Lacson said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III “failed to work” on a necessary documentary requirement called the Confidentiality Disclosure Agreement (CDA) with Pfizer, missing the opportunity to secure an early vaccine delivery date for Manila.
“Pati ang Pfizer country representative, follow up ng follow up, nahihiya na raw sila Ambassador Jose Romualdez, di pa rin kumikilos si Sec. Duque. Hanggang nakuha ng Singapore, nawalan tayo. At ang pinakamaaga na para magkaroon ng pag-asa uli magka-vaccine, June next year. Yan ang story noon (The Pfizer country representative was even following up on the submission but he failed to act fast. Eventually, Singapore got the doses, and the earliest we could get the vaccine now is June next year),” he said in a radio interview.
In a separate interview, Duque denied that he did not act quick enough, emphasizing the process to make sure that Covid-19 vaccine deals are not onerous or disadvantageous.
Duque also reasoned that as a physician, his “overriding principle” in his practice of medicine “is always to err on the side of caution”.
“When you go through a process, you cannot just be hurrying up things like that, you have to be prudent and cautious especially because you’re talking about a brand new… a novel vaccine. Not only it is a novel vaccine but the technology that it is using, the mRNA platform, is also new, never been tried nor tested,” he said in an ANC interview on Thursday.
“I really needed to make sure that the concerned offices would clear the CDA, that was, by the way, only submitted on August 11 and up to that, that CDA was in fact intended to be signed prior to Pfizer request by the Office of the President,” he said.
He said it was only in September 2020 that the Department of Health was notified to serve as the signatory on behalf of the national government.
“Initially, that (CDA) draft was really meant to be signed by the Office of the Executive Secretary on behalf of all the government agencies,” Duque said. “I signed it October 20, it’s about three weeks from the time the advisory came from the Office of the Executive Secretary designating DOH as now the signatory.”
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is likely to be at the forefront of the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines expected to be rolled out next year.
“Wala pang order na kami (ang) magdadala pero ang assumption ko diyan (There is no order yet saying we would be the ones to transport but my assumption) is the AFP will be in the forefront of distributing the vaccine to the provinces, to the cities,” Lorenzana, also the chairperson of the National Task Force Against Covid-19, told reporters.
He assured that the AFP is ready to use most of its air, naval, and land assets in transporting these vaccines.
“So we will be there, I assume, that we will be there, at the forefront of the distribution of vaccines,” he added.
Food and Drug Administration Director General Eric Domingo earlier said Covid-19 vaccines in the country may be rolled out as early as March next year.
On Dec. 2, Duterte signed Executive Order No. 121 allowing the FDA to issue an emergency use authorization (EUA) to Covid-19 drug and vaccine makers. (with reports from Priam Nepomuceno/PNA)