Palace: PH buying China vaccine since no commitment yet from others
Malacañang denied on Tuesday that it was favoring the more expensive, China-made CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine over other candidate shots, saying the government would buy what vaccines would become available to it as long as these were safe and effective.
CoronaVac is made by the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque noted that there was a global scramble for the COVID-19 vaccines being developed by several pharmaceutical companies.
“As of now, the market is really demand-driven and we will get what we can procure. We have no favorites,” Roque said at a press briefing.
China has committed to provide the Philippines with its COVID-19 vaccine, Roque said.
The Philippines has not yet been able to get a similar commitment for supplies of the Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Moderna vaccines, he said.
“The reason we are purchasing [CoronaVac] is we cannot immediately get Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Moderna,” he said.
There are plans to acquire the Pfizer vaccine, he said, but this could arrive in the second and third quarter of 2021, he said. “It’s not acceptable to the President to wait that long.”
But it would be good if the Philippines would be able to get access to other COVID-19 vaccines, he added.
‘Somebody dropped ball’
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippines was supposed to get 10 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, but “somebody dropped the ball.”
In a series of tweets, Locsin said he and Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez had arranged for the delivery of the vaccine with the help of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Locsin said the purchase of the Pfizer vaccine was to be bankrolled by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
“That said, my thanks just the same to … Pompeo. We—Babe Romualdez and I—got 10 million doses of Pfizer financed by World Bank and ADB to be shipped thru FedEx to Clark (airport) in January,” Locsin tweeted.
“BUT SOMEBODY DROPPED THE BALL. I have steel ball bearings. I just need a slingshot,” he added.
Asked by a Twitter user to elaborate, Locsin just said Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., head of the National Task Force Against COVID-19 who had been designated by President Duterte to lead the vaccine program, would be the one “ordering.”
“No. We did not miss the bus because we were slow to act. Babe and I were fast. Offers poured in. But there are none so slow as those who never had the intention to catch the bus,” he said.
Locsin also defended Malacañang’s decision to inoculate Filipinos with CoronaVac despite observation by critics that the Chinese vaccine was more expensive than the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.
Without identifying him, Locsin pointed out that Dr. Anthony Leachon, a former adviser to the government’s coronavirus response who was criticized by Roque for raising doubts about the efficacy of CoronaVac, had worked for Pfizer.
“It’s normal native reaction to anything unfamiliar. This is not the time for pick and choose. All the vaccines are good and all of them have the limitations of short trials,” Locsin said.
He claimed that individuals who had been vaccinated with the Pfizer shot had suffered “Bell’s palsy or frozen face,” but it eventually “went away.”
“As I said in speeches before international audiences—none challenged me—no serious power will invite stigma for the next two centuries by deploying a vaccine that it isn’t using on its own citizens,” Locsin said.
“All powers are doing that; China and Russia on their armed forces. Not a good place to play dice. Plus, no one will be forced to take a vaccine they don’t want,” he added.
Besides, Locsin said, not a single vaccine developed by private pharmaceutical companies has secured a “government warranty,” which, according to him, would not come until the vaccines procured by the government were formally released for use next year.
“The government will announce official [vaccination] on a certain date,” he said, adding that vaccination against the new coronavirus would be a requirement for people who wanted to travel abroad.
According to Undersecretary Lloyd Lao of the Department of Budget and Management’s Procurement Service, China is one of the “most cooperative” countries with the Philippines when it comes to vaccine negotiations.
“They are making commitments and they are responding positively to us. That’s why Sinovac is one of the most active vaccine suppliers that’s negotiating with our country, because it has the imprimatur of China itself,” Lao said.
What is most important to the government now is that the vaccine is safe, effective, and has approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Roque said.
Price is only secondary at this point in deciding which vaccine to buy, he said. “I think price is a limited aspect because we’re in an emergency situation and vaccines are limited,” he said.
Roque had been asked whether Malacañang preferred the Sinovac vaccine over other candidate vaccines that were less expensive, and what it thought of claims that the Chinese shot was not backed by adequate safety and efficacy data.
The Philippines plans to acquire 25 million doses of CoronaVac by the first quarter of 2021. CoronaVac costs $60 (P3,000) for the two-dose regimen.
Pfizer’s vaccine, which the government is also negotiating to get, costs $39 (P1,950) for two doses. The AstraZeneca vaccine, which the private sector will purchase, costs $10 (P500) for two doses.
Lao said the government would get the vaccine that would be the “safest and the most effective and available.”
“Cost is secondary. What is important is that we get the vaccines available to the Philippines,” he said.
FDA Director General Eric Domingo said the agency would study Sinovac’s vaccine objectively and that it would not tolerate any attempt to bribe it to get its approval.
Domingo had been asked at a news briefing about reports that Sinovac had bribed Chinese drug regulators in the past to get approval for its vaccines.
“Our study would be very objective. It would depend on the data and the evidence they would submit. They should not try to commit bribery in the Philippines because they would run into problems. They would all the more not get approval,” Domingo said. INQ
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