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âSomebody dropped the ballâ
The vaccines, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said, were supposed to be funded by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
STAR/ File

‘Somebody dropped the ball’

Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - December 16, 2020 - 12:00am

10 million Pfizer vaccine Doses

MANILA, Philippines — The country was assured of getting 10 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer by January until “somebody dropped the ball,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said yesterday.

The vaccines, he said, were supposed to be funded by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

“That said my thanks just the same to US Sec of State Mike Pompeo we –(Philippine Ambassador to the US) Babe Romualdez and I – got 10 million doses of Pfizer financed by World Bank and ADB to be shipped thru FEDEX to Clark in January. BUT SOMEBODY DROPPED THE BALL. I have steel ball bearings. I just need a slingshot,” Locsin said on Twitter.

To the Twitter post of former elections commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal that the Philippines seemed to have “acted too late” in finalizing vaccine deals, Locsin replied: “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.”

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said he had no idea who Locsin was referring to as having “dropped the ball” and stopped the delivery of the Pfizer vaccines to the Philippines.

But he said the government is looking at getting the supply from Pfizer between the second and the third quarter of 2021, hence the preference for China’s Sinovac vaccine.

German firm BioNTech, he said, is also expected to make its own vaccine shipment to the country by early next year.

In a post on Twitter, the Chinese embassy said Sinovac Biotech would provide 25 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines by March.

At the same time, Roque parried criticisms that the Philippines is not getting the first crack at new vaccines due to its failure to negotiate with Western pharmaceutical groups.

Roque said the Duterte administration did not waver in its effort to seek international cooperation regarding vaccine procurement.

“It’s very clear that no less than our Secretary of Foreign Affairs negotiated with his counterpart in the US, Secretary Pompeo, for us to get supply from Pfizer. So we’ve never been remiss in our duty. There is really a supply agreement with Pfizer, but the issue is when,” he said in Filipino and English.

Global standards

At a virtual press briefing from Malacañang, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) administrator Eric Domingo said the President is very clear in his instructions that only vaccines that have passed global standards would be procured by the government.

“It’s in his executive order that with that information at hand, it should be reasonable to believe that it is safe and effective,” Domingo said.

“So if there’s no evidence (of efficacy), it won’t be issued EUA (emergency use authorization) and it won’t be sold here,” he added.

The issuance of the EUA is based on the “totality of evidence available, including the data from adequate and well-known controlled trials,” he explained. “It is reasonable to believe that the drug or vaccine may be effective to prevent, diagnose or treat COVID-19.”

He added that the known and potential benefits of the drug or vaccine when used to diagnose, prevent or treat COVID-19 should “outweigh the known potential risks of the drug or vaccine, if any.”

“There is no adequate, approved and available alternative in the drug or vaccine for diagnosing, preventing or treating COVID-19,” Domingo added.

He also cautioned Chinese firm Sinovac against attempting to bribe the regulatory agency concerning its application to do a clinical trial in the country for its vaccine.

“Here in the Philippines, don’t even try to bribe because they will have a problem. Their applications will not be approved,” he said.

He also warned the public against buying vaccines from the black market. “We are warning everyone, if you know somebody who sells or offers any vaccine for COVID-19, don’t have yourself vaccinated because we have no registered or allowed/authorized vaccine here in the Philippines,” Domingo said in Filipino.

“We have conducted raids in some clinics but we have not made arrests. There are reports, we always go and check – that’s (part of our) regulatory enforcement unit,” he said.

“So, if these enter our country, that’s illegal, we do not know where it passed through, how these are being handled and it might not be safe for you to have yourself injected. Don’t get vaccinated with these, since there is no vaccine yet in the country,” Domingo said.

Roque also seconded Domingo, saying it’s very dangerous to procure COVID-19 vaccines from the black market.

“If you bought it from the black market, you don’t know if it’s actually fake. It might just be water which you will pay at a hefty price, yet it’s just water,” he said.

Cost secondary

Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Lao noted President Duterte’s instructions regarding the immediate acquisition of vaccines.

“Yes. The instruction of the President is very precise, we get the vaccine for the protection of the Filipino people. So, whatever is the safest and the most effective and available, that we will get. The cost and the price will be taken care of by DOF; that’s their concern and DBM’s concern,” Lao said.

“The concern now of the government aside from DBM and DOF which is financing and payment and budgeting is that we provide the vaccine, which is the priority of the present administration, the people should be protected; cost is secondary. What is important is that we get the vaccines available to the Philippines,” Lao added.

Meanwhile, a former adviser to the National Task Force Against COVID-19 has urged the government to address concerns regarding its decision to procure Chinese vaccine Sinovac despite the lack of sufficient data on its efficacy and safety.

“I’m only for the safety of our brothers and sisters in the country. For me, the question on safety and efficacy data have to be answered,” Dr. Tony Leachon said in an interview with The Chiefs on One News/TV 5 Monday night.

“How come that we are so focused on the Sinovac, the Chinese vaccine, when Phase 3 trials are not yet finished… I was thinking, why will we do that if it does not have approval internationally from reputable agencies?” he added.

Leachon was questioning the government’s decision to order 25 million doses of the Chinese vaccine, which will supposedly be delivered in March.

He noted that the order was made even if there is no data yet on the efficacy and safety of the vaccine, unlike others that have undergone assessment and received approval for use in some countries.

“We do not see (its results) published like (AstraZeneca) and Pfizer in reputable journals,” he added, referring to other companies developing vaccines.

Both the United States and United Kingdom have already issued EUAs and have started administering the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

On Monday, Roque said Leachon has repeatedly drawn the ire of the President over his criticisms about the government’s response to the pandemic. He claimed that all Leachon wanted was to have a post in the government. Leachon denied Roque’s accusation.— Janvic Mateo, Sheila Crisostomo

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