Senate to continue vaccine probe
MANILA, Philippines — The Senate may continue its inquiry into the government’s coronavirus vaccine program amid lingering questions about the pricing and sourcing of the shots, delivery and logistics, and what critics describe as a preference for China-made vaccines.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III told the Inquirer on Sunday he would consult his colleagues about the possibility of extending the inquiry of the Senate committee of the whole as the House of Representatives prepared to hold its own probe on Monday.
Sotto made the comment after Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Sen. Francis Pangilinan and Sen. Panfilo Lacson asked to continue the inquiry despite his earlier assessment that the senators had obtained enough information from the Jan. 11 and 15 hearings to come up with recommendations.
“There are still a number of issues hanging. These too many unanswered questions raise grave concerns, for the survival of the country largely depends on our ability to implement a successful vaccination program against [the] COVID-19 virus,” Drilon said in a statement on Sunday.
He said details of the government’s COVID-19 vaccination plan “remain[ed] murky,” adding that the planners led by National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief Carlito Galvez Jr., must be more transparent and honest about the procurement of the jabs.
The urgent unanswered questions, according to the senator, involve, among other things, “the pricing, the sourcing of the vaccines, the delivery schedules and logistical support plan.”
“We did not get any definite answers to these serious questions. I believe another round of hearing is in order,” Drilon said.
During the two-day inquiry, the senators zeroed in on conflicting information from the COVID-19 managers as well as the secrecy in the negotiations with pharmaceutical companies to secure millions of doses of vaccines.
One of the biggest issues raised was the government’s supposed partiality toward a vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech of China despite its lower reported efficacy rate and higher cost from among seven vaccine manufacturers under consideration.
The government last week announced that it had secured 25 million of doses of the Sinovac vaccine, marketed as CoronaVac, with the first 50,000 shots to be delivered in February.
The senators also decried the finding that CoronaVac was the second most expensive of the seven short-listed products. But Galvez later disputed the pricing claim and said SinoVac was less costly than other brands although he declined to disclose the price offered by the Chinese pharmaceutical company because of confidentiality agreements.
Aside from the Senate probe, officials involved in the vaccination program will also explain to the House of Representatives’ committee on health, which will begin its own inquiry on Monday.
The panel’s chair, Rep. Angelina Helen Tan, said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Galvez and other health experts were expected to appear at the hearing.
Tan said the hearing would be “a jump-off point for deliberations” on House Resolution No. 1227, filed by Parañaque Rep. Joy Tambunting, and House Resolution No. 1332, filed by Sultan Kudarat Rep. Princess Rihan Sakaluran, both seeking a comprehensive plan for the distribution of the vaccines.
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