Gov't told to prioritize acquiring Pfizer vaccines over unauthorized jabs

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Gov't told to prioritize acquiring Pfizer vaccines over unauthorized jabs
An illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, on November 17, 2020.

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:55 p.m.) — Two senators on Thursday said top officials should focus on acquiring vaccines from Pfizer instead of manufacturers whose jabs have not yet received regulatory approval in the country.

"The Food and Drug Administration's green light to use the Pfizer vaccine in the country against the novel coronavirus should prompt the government to immediately negotiate for its purchase and delivery to the Philippines.," a statement released by Sen. Grace Poe reads.

"Negotiations with Pfizer should be prioritized over deals with other manufacturers whose products have yet to get FDA's approval," she added.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan similarly pushed the government to expedite negotiations with the US biotech company. 

“Pfizer should be on top of the government's list for purchase over other vaccines that have yet to get the emergency use authorization,” he said.

"Funds are already available in the 2021 national budget, from Bayanihan 2, and from grants and loans, that we can use to buy vaccines for the protection of Filipinos, especially the most vulnerable," Pangilinan added in Filipino. 

Earlier on Thursday, the FDA announced that it granted emergency use authorization (EUA) to Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech SE's jab, making it the first vaccine to receive the authorization needed for rollout in the government's national vaccination plan.

Only health professionals, who are trained to recognize and manage severe allergic reactions, will be allowed to administer the vaccine which has been cleared for the use of people aged 16 and above.

During the same press briefing, the FDA revealed that it received an application from China's Sinovac for emergency use of its vaccine.

According to vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., either the Pfizer or the Sinovac vaccine will be the first to arrive in the country next month.

'Worrisome' Sinovac purchase

But senators have expressed concern over Sinovac's jab whose efficacy remains unclear. In Brazil, it was shown to be 50.4% effective, barely meeting the threshold of 50% to 60% set by global authorities.

Pangilinan on Wednesday called on the government to cancel its purchase from Sinovac after trial results were released by the Brazilian government, noting that it was six times more expensive and 20% less effective than the United Kingdom's AstraZeneca. Sen. Ping Lacson made the same observation, questioning the government's acquisition choices.

In response, Galvez disputed these prices and claimed that the country is purchasing Sinovac doses at "best price" but did not reveal the cost.

But Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri on Thursday flagged the lack of transparency on vaccine cost, saying that the Senate might ask resource persons to disclose the prices in an executive session to prevent them from violating their non-disclosure agreements.

"What's kind of....worrisome is the statement of our dear Secretary Duque...that they have already made the order, or it's a done deal that we have 25 million doses of Sinovac coming into the country," Zubiri said in an interview with ANC's "Headstart," citing what he called the very low efficacy rating released by the Brazilian government on Wednesday.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque on Monday also confirmed the country's purchase of 25 million Sinovac jabs, the first 50,000 of which are expected to arrive by February.

Palace: Philippines bought China's Sinovac vaccines at 'BFF' price

Still without disclosing the price of the vaccines purchased by the government, Roque during a virtual briefing on Thursday denied that Sinovac is the second most expensive of the vaccines being eyed by the government for acquisition. 

"I can say that of all our orders, Sinovac is not the most expensive....If I'm not mistaken, it is only the third most expensive out of six brands," Roque said in Filipino. 

"I can assure you na nabigyan po tayo ng presyo na ukol lamang sa kanilang BFF (that we were given a price that was only for their [best friend forever])," he added. 

Galvez and Roque have lauded China for offering the country what they said was the best price for the Sinovac doses but both Cabinet members have said that they are not at liberty to reveal exactly how much they cost.  

Roque further defended the choice to purchase tens of millions of doses of the vaccine despite the lack of definitive data on its efficacy, saying in Filipino: "There is nothing to rethink because we are taking all the steps to get any vaccine that can be proven safe and effective by our FDA as soon as possible." 

"Hindi natin gagamitin ang Sinovac kung walang EUA (We will not use Sinovac without EUA)," he also said. 

But Dr. Tony Leachon, a former adviser to the COVID-19 task force, said Filipinos should be told exactly how much the Sinovac vaccines cost. 

"Is it cheaper than the more efficacious vaccines like Pfizer or Astra[Zeneca]? I think the public has the right to know," he said on Twitter. 

Referring to questions about why the government is possibly purchasing more expensive and less efficacious vaccines, Leachon noted: "Its a valid concern." 

"[W]e should be relentless in pursuing the answers to these important questions. It’s about our health and vaccines are our lifesavers and the solid link to economic recovery." — with a report from Xave Gregorio 







As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: January 4, 2022 - 9:06am

The national government has so far secured two official deals for COVID-19 vaccine supplies in the Philippines, one with Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac and another with the Serum Institute of India.

Watch this space for bite-sized developments on the vaccines in the Philippines. (Main image by Markus Spiske via Unsplash)

January 4, 2022 - 9:06am

Government must increase vaccination capacity across the Philippines in anticipation of a surge of COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant of the corona virus, Sen. Risa Hontiveros says.

She says local government units and the private sector can work together to put up more vaccination centers and deploy more vaccination teams to get more people inoculated against COVID-19.

"The active COVID cases have nearly doubled in three days. The positivity rate is almost four times the ceiling set by the World Health Organization. Huwag na nating hintayin na sobrang lumala pa ang sitwasyon bago tayo gumawa ng paraan para mapabilis ang ating pagbabakuna."

December 23, 2021 - 11:44am

FDA chief Eric Domingo says that its agency has given emergency approval for the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.

November 11, 2021 - 7:30am

The United States immunized around 900,000 children aged five-to-11 against Covid in the first week the Pfizer vaccine was authorized for them, a White House official says Wednesday.

Roughly 700,000 more have made appointments at pharmacies, White House Covid coordinator Jeff Zients tells reporters.

"The program is just getting up to full strength," he says, adding most of the shots were given in the last couple of days alone. — AFP

November 8, 2021 - 7:56pm

The Philippines has received 2.8 million doses of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccines from Russia.

The shipment arrived at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City on Monday night and was met by President Rodrigo Duterte himself.

November 7, 2021 - 11:57am

A Department of the Interior and Local Government proposal to require Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program beneficiaries to get vaccinated before cash transfers to them can be released will not help the poor, Sen. Risa Hontiveros says.

"Walang kundisyon sa 4Ps law na kailangang COVID-19 vaccinated ang recipients kaya dapat igalang at irespeto ng ating mga opisyal ang desisyon ng sinuman ukol sa pagbabakuna," she says. 

(The 4Ps Law does not include the condition that recipients must be vaccinated against COVID-19 so the government must respect people's decision to get vaccinated or not)

She says it would be better for government agencues like the social welfare and health departments to encourage 4Ps beneficiaries to get vaccinated but not as a condition to receive cash aid.

Hontiveros says encouragement and explanations have helped address vaccine hesitancy in Metro Manila.

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