LIVE: Senate hearing on COVID-19 vaccination program — Day 2

Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - January 15, 2021 - 9:50am

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate Committee of the Whole is set to resume its probe on the government's vaccination program against COVID-19, and Senate President Tito Sotto is hoping it will be the last installment.

Sotto in an interview with Kapihan sa Manila Bay earlier this week said Friday's hearing would feature more representatives from the private sector and local government units.

President Duterte on January 7 approved the rolling out of a tripartite agreement among LGUs, the national government, and pharmaceutical firms for the vaccine procurement in recognition of the role of LGUs in the rollout of a national vaccination program to prevent the spread of the virus.

As of Thursday, 21 LGUs have already secured vaccine deals of their own — all with AstraZeneca, whose vaccine with Oxford has shown an efficacy rate of 70%.

READ: A roundup of local governments who secured vaccine deals in advance

But Sotto is looking to grant local governments even more leeway when it comes to vaccine procurement and rollout.

"We will pursue the possibility of allowing the private sector or LGUs or private individuals [tp procure] because...some are not impressed with [certain vaccines], others are more impressed with Russia or the [United Kingdom or wherever]. So we will insist on Friday to find a solution to that particular predicament where we are in, where a tripartite agreement is necessary," he said partially in Filipino.

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer's vaccine for emergency use, making it the first jab to get the authorization needed for rollout in the government's national vaccination plan. At the same press briefing, the FDA announced that it received an application from China's Sinovac for emergency use of its vaccine.

Contrary to presidential spokesman Harry Roque, who said Sinovac's vaccine might be the only available vaccine in the country until June, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said on Wednesday that doses from Pfizer may be the first to arrive in the country this February.

Senators question Sinovac purchase

The government has procured 25 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine, which recently proved only 50.4% effective in Brazil, barely meeting the threshold of 50% to 60% set by global authorities. The first shipment is also expected to arrive in February.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan on Wednesday called on the government to cancel its purchase from Sinovac after trial results were released by the Brazilian government.

Sens. Ping Lacson and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri have also questioned the decision to buy the vaccine, both noting that Sinovac's doses are more expensive and less effective than many of its counterparts from other brands.

Galvez, however, denies that the Sinovac jabs are six times more expensive than AstraZeneca's as Pangilinan claimed, saying that China gave them to the country at a "best price," but did not disclose the prices of any of the vaccines purchased by the government. 

"I hope the hearing on Friday will be the last and I hope that we will be enlightened more and I hope that [government officials] will accept more some of the proposals or the suggestions of the senators," Sotto said. 

Watch the Senate inquiry LIVE, at 10 a.m. on FRIDAY, Jan. 15, 2020.

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