Decision to allow advance payment to Pfizer took 2 months
MANILA, Philippines — If President Rodrigo Duterte really wanted to secure Pfizer’s vaccine early, why did it take him two months to allow advance payment to be made to the American pharmaceutical giant?
On Sept. 4, a multiagency meeting, including the Office of the President, was held with Pfizer officials to discuss what the Philippines’ arrangements would be once the candidate vaccine became available.
In that “first meeting,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said “no commitments were made,” and that Philippine officials only explained to Pfizer the regulatory processes it needed to undergo and named an official it could contact.
“Most of the discussions centered [on] the confidentiality disclosure agreement (CDA), which they were able to provide the Department of Health and we already have our comments to that,” Vergeire said at a briefing on Sept. 7. She added that the Department of Science and Technology, which was also present in the meeting, gave as well its comments on the agreement.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pointed out that the CDA was usually entered into by parties “to ensure that a party receiving proprietary information (for example, unpublished data or know-how) will keep the information confidential for a certain period of time.” Apart from Pfizer, the Philippines also signed a CDA with Moderna.
According to Vergeire, when Pfizer asked if the government could provide an estimate of how many vaccine doses it would preorder, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the agencies involved would have to discuss it first “since we have a limitation when it comes to preordering without the products yet because of Republic Act No. 9184,” or the procurement law.
In his televised address on Sept. 14, the President slammed pharmaceutical companies that asked the government to make advance payments to be able to procure their vaccines. He did not mention any company but incidentally, he spoke a week after the Pfizer meeting.
“That’s one thing wrong about the Western countries—it’s profit, profit, profit. There’s a pandemic and you say that, ‘OK, we have something for sale or something to sell to you.’ Then you’ll be happy, only to collapse when the next sentence is said, ‘but you have to make a cash advance before we send it,” Mr. Duterte said.
“Now they are asking for, like, a reservation fee,” he said of the company that was “really on the advanced stage of the clinical trials.”
“[Y]ou want us to make a reservation by depositing money, you must be crazy. Why would I buy in that [manner]? Because the procurement law of the Philippines, this country, does not allow you to buy something which is nonexistent or to be produced as yet,” Mr. Duterte said.
By early November, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech released the interim results on its candidate vaccine, which was later found to have an efficacy rate of 95 percent. In the months in between, advanced economies like New Zealand, Canada, and the European Union secured deals with Pfizer.
In the European Union’s case, it was even able to jack up to 300 million the number of doses it expected from Pfizer in 2021.
In July, Pfizer said it could manufacture 100 million doses by year-end. But the company revised its projection last month, saying it expected to produce just up to 50 million doses this year and up to 1.3 billion doses by end-2021.
100M doses for US
“[It] begs the question, ‘how can we have the 10 million for the Philippines by January when Pfizer even falls short [of its] originally announced volume of doses of 100 million by 2020?’ Not to mention the originating country has first dibs,” Duque told the Inquirer.
Three of Pfizer’s four facilities that are manufacturing the vaccine are based in the United States, to which it has an agreement to supply 100 million doses. Duque said he signed the CDA with Pfizer in October. It was not until late November, however, that Duterte approved advance payment to Pfizer.
At a press briefing last month, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte allowed making advance payments to manufacturers out of fear that the country may lose out in the race to secure the vaccine.
“At first the President disapproved of advance payments, but when he saw a list of countries that were paying in advance, he decided that we should not be left behind as long as we had funds,” Roque said.
Industry data showed that of the more than 12 billion vaccine doses expected to be produced by various manufacturers next year, close to 9 billion doses will come from five countries—the United States, India, China, France, and the United Kingdom. The Philippines, through a private initiative, has secured only 2.6 million doses from British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
Though Duterte had shown preference in the past for Russia’s vaccine, Sputnik V, it is still unclear if the Philippines will get supplies or if it has secured a deal for the initial distribution scheduled in the first quarter of 2021.
Duque said vaccine program chief Carlito Galvez Jr. may be able to give updates on the Russian vaccine in the scheduled media briefing on Friday.
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