A Cabinet official has admitted, expressing the “understanding” of President Rodrigo Duterte, that the Philippines “is at the receiving end of the vaccines” procured and intended to stand up to the deadly transmissible coronavirus.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles told reporters in a televised briefing on Tuesday, “As much as we want to and as practicable as possible, we are doing everything we need to do, based on the requirements being asked of us.
“At the end of the day, it’s really the vaccine manufacturers’ obligation, responsibility to ship it to us at a time that was promised… We are at the receiving end.”
What does this mean?
There were projections the Philippines could start vaccinating the population against COVID-19 by this month, but the country has yet to receive any vaccine shipments.
Nograles was asked if this meant that Duterte was blaming vaccine makers instead of Cabinet members for the vaccination delay. He said, “We are doing everything that we must and need to do.”
It appears the lack of an indemnification deal that would protect vaccine makers from lawsuits in case of adverse effects has delayed the arrival of 117,000 COVID-19 shots from Pfizer through the COVAX Facility, initially expected in mid-February.
We are now on the last week of February.
Issues with the emergency use authorization which China required for its donation of 600,000 COVID-19 shots to the Philippines also pushed back their supposed arrival this week.
The Philippine drug regulator eventually granted the EUA on Monday.
The Philippines has not yet received any shipment of legal vaccines which it aims to give to 70 million people or about two-thirds of the population this year.
Further delays could derail economic recovery after the country’s worst contraction on record last year, when it slumped 9.5 percent, the worst in Southeast Asia.
With more than 563,000 cases and 12,107 deaths, the Philippines has the second highest COVID-19 infections and casualties in Southeast Asia, next to Indonesia.
The delay comes as the Philippines logged earlier this week 1,414 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the country’s total to 564,865.
Last week, a Department of Science and Technology official said the World Health Organization and vaccine firms would cover medical expenses in case some volunteers to their respective clinical trials would experience side effects from COVID-19 jabs.
In a public press briefing, DOST Undersecretary Rowena Cristina Guevarra said the WHO would cover treatment of those who participate in solidarity trials and experience adverse reactions, while vaccine developers would shoulder the costs for those who participate in independent clinical trials and show side effects.
“For independent clinical trials, vaccine developers will shoulder costs. WHO will shoulder the costs for participants in solidarity trials, as they have bought global insurance for volunteers and those on the trial list,” Guevarra said.
The DOST also said Janssen Pharmaceuticals started its clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccine in the country.
In that same briefing, the DOST said the WHO was considering selecting 3 COVID-19 vaccines for its solidarity trials, which have been in discussions since last year.
Preparations for the vaccine trials of Clover and Sinovac are ongoing.
Interestingly, should patients experience adverse effects, vaccine firms will be filing reports to the Food and Drug Administration, who in turn will analyze the information to know the cause of the side effects.
“When a patient experiences adverse effects, they will submit protocols. They will report this to the Food and Drug Administration of the Philippines. And when it happens here, the hospitalization in case someone experiences adverse effects…will be shouldered by the company conducting clinical trials,” Guevarra said.
The Philippines is aiming to inoculate 70 million of its population, hoping to buy 148 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from various drug makers. No single vial has arrived in the Philippines yet despite earlier pronouncements of COVID-19 response officials that the jabs may arrive this month.
But with the delay and the apparent reservations of the vaccine manufacturers, it looks like we are still a long way off to achieving the government goal.