Iloilo City in quandary whether to pay for expired COVID-19 vaccines
ILOILO CITY — The local government here sought the guidance of the Commission on Audit (COA) on whether or not it would pay for COVID-19 vaccines procured in 2021, more than half of which had expired.
Assistant City Legal Officer Quintin Magsico, on Monday, March 27, said they had not paid British drugmaker AstraZeneca for 600,000 doses of Vaxzevria (formerly AZD-1222) after 416,700 doses expired.
He said the city government’s stand was either to not pay the pharmaceutical company, or have the vaccines replaced through the Department of Health (DOH).
“As protector of government funds, [the city government’s] stand is not to pay them unless there is a replacement. We will only pay what we have used. We will pay the entire amount if we were assured replacements through the DOH,” Magsico told the Inquirer.
The unused vaccines include 269,300 doses, which expired in March 2022, and 147,400 which expired in April 2022. Only 183,300 were utilized.
According to Magsico, laws on sales bind the city government to pay the drugmaker.
“If you look at it from the legal aspect, you ought to pay what is delivered. When the AstraZeneca facility’s [vaccines] arrived [in Iloilo], they were already good as delivered, because that was the agreement,” the lawyer explained.
“The memorandum of agreement was drafted by [the DOH], [which is] a contract of adhesion. We didn’t have a choice at the time. When you are in a crisis, you have to conform or not to conform. We couldn’t [easily] say what we wanted [in the contract], because it was pro forma, and all LGUs used the same pro forma contract [with the DOH]. We had no choice, we had to conform,” he added.
Magsico said their actions ultimately hinged on COA chairperson Gamaliel Cordoba’s advice, having written to him but have not received any response as of Tuesday.
“Until we get that instruction or guidance from COA, or assured of a replacement of those expired vaccines, we will not pay [AstraZeneca],” he said.
Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas earlier expressed his intent to terminate their agreement with AstraZeneca, citing the expiry of the vaccines.
They also previously moved to distribute these to other local governments in Iloilo province and Guimaras to avoid the expiration.
City General Services Office chief Joren Sartorio, who had been in charge of the vaccine’s logistics, cited delays in delivery as one of the main factors of the underutilization of these doses.
“[AstraZeneca] was manufacturing from India and Thailand, which also suffered from the pandemic, so they may have prioritized requirements there, which caused a delay in deliveries here,” said Sartorio.
“It was also during that time that production of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines also increased. The COVAX facility was able to deliver to the national government those vaccines, and later on, [from] private donors. Who can refuse those vaccines for the populace? For us in logistics, we had to accept those,” he added.
“When the AstraZeneca vaccines arrived, there were already many vaccines available, and the people, we didn’t understand why they preferred other brands. That caused the low utilization rate.”