Lacson advises vaccine czar to ‘watch his back’
MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Thursday said he advised President Duterte’s vaccine czar to “watch his back” as he may be surrounded by people who were out to serve their own interests.
In a series of tweets, Lacson said he had confidence in the “integrity and sincerity” of Carlito Galvez Jr., but others in the National Task Force Against COVID-19 may be “pushing him out front to do the talking” and “taking advantage of his credibility” to pursue their own plans.
Lacson, however, did not mention names.
He said he gave the advice to Galvez during a private meeting with Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa and Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong, the government’s contact tracing adviser, on Wednesday.
Briefing for senators
On the instruction of Mr. Duterte, Galvez briefed the senators on the progress of his negotiations to buy 25 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine of the Chinese drugmaker Sinovac Biotech.
Lacson said Galvez “clarified a lot of issues and concerns” that had been raised by senators and had remained unresolved until Wednesday.
“He assured us that he will make it very hard for those people to even have an opening for that opportunity [to push their vested interests],” Lacson said.
“We were shown the documents. And we have no doubt about Secretary Galvez’s integrity and his sincerity to accomplish his task,” he added.
Lacson, however, was not inclined to withdraw his statement that there had been an attempt to overprice the purchase of the Sinovac vaccine. He said the overprice could be known only from the final price that would be agreed upon during the negotiations.
“They can start even at P1 million per dose but if the final agreed price is P650 to P700, which is comparable to Indonesia’s P638, then I can say, as in the ball game, no harm, no foul,” Lacson said.
He said the senators advised Galvez to explain the issues hounding the vaccine procurement during the resumption of the Senate committee of the whole’s inquiry into the government’s vaccine program.
Confidentiality of information
Lacson said Galvez had requested for a meeting with the senators, primarily with him, to apologize for accusing some senators during a televised briefing of “demonizing” vaccine makers and “hurting” the negotiations for supplies with the manufacturers.
“I accepted his apology. He promised to be more careful in issuing statements,” Lacson said.
He said the senators present at the meeting promised to “honor and respect” the confidentiality of information shown to them by Galvez.
In a Viber message to reporters on Thursday, Sotto said he assured Galvez that he would not be verbally abused during the hearings on the vaccine program.
Galvez announced on Thursday that the Philippines would get 30 million to 40 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines after being admitted to COVAX, a global procurement pool coheaded by the World Health Organization.
Galvez and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III toured cold storage depots where vaccines being delivered would be stored.
Among the cold storage centers they visited was that of Zuellig Pharmaceutical Corp. in Parañaque City, which could store up to 40 million doses in -50 degrees to -25 degrees Celsius. The company also has ultralow temperature freezers that can hold 6.5 million doses in 2 to 8 degrees Celsius.
They also visited Unilab’s First Pioneer Distributions Center in Biñan City, Laguna, which can store up to 5 million doses in 2 to 8 degrees Celsius.
Besides the Sinovac vaccine, the Philippines is also negotiating for supplies of vaccines made by the US companies Pfizer and Moderna, Britain’s AstraZeneca and Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted emergency use authorization to Pfizer for its vaccine, and is reviewing the applications of Sinovac, AstraZeneca and Gamaleya.
On Thursday, India’s Bharat Biotech submitted its application for emergency use approval to the FDA for its COVID-19 vaccine Covaxin. FDA Director General Eric Domingo said the review of Bharat’s application had started.
The Philippines has one of the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases in Asia, and fresh infections are increasing daily.
On Thursday, the Department of Health (DOH) logged 1,783 additional coronavirus infections, bringing the overall number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country to 507,717.
The DOH said 500 more patients had recovered, raising the total number of COVID-19 survivors to 467,475. The death toll, however, rose to 10,116 as 74 more patients had succumbed to the severe respiratory disease.
The deaths and recoveries left the country with 30,126 active cases, of which 84.8 percent were mild, 8 percent asymptomatic, 0.4 percent asymptomatic, 2.5 percent severe, and 4.4 percent critical. —WITH REPORTS FROM JEROME ANING AND PATRICIA DENISE M. CHIU
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