Senators deny preference for Pfizer jabs, stress oversight function after Duterte lashes out

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Senators deny preference for Pfizer jabs, stress oversight function after Duterte lashes out
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 — Senators on Tuesday denied holding a bias toward any vaccine brand, saying instead that they are concerned with the safety, efficacy, pricing, and availability of the badly needed jabs.

The clarification was made in response to President Rodrigo Duterte's claim Monday night that the upper chamber, which has been conducting hearings into the government's national vaccination plan, holds a preference for Pfizer's vaccine.

"You want Pfizer, you senators," an agitated Duterte said in Filipino at the very start of his address. "You want that? We will order it for you. That is what you want, it's mentioned over and over again in this article by the Inquirer."

Senate President Tito Sotto questioned whether the president was receiving accurate reports of the hearings being conducted, telling ABS-CBN: "Tell him Thanks but No Thanks! I wonder what gave him the idea that the senators favor Pfizer?"

"I asked Sen Bong Go yesterday...if the President is informed of whats transpiring in our hearings. He said yes but apparently not!" he added.

Sen. Ping Lacson, in an interview with ANC's "Headstart," also said that he is not aware of any senator who has shown a preference for the Pfizer jab. "What we are doing in the Senate is an exercise of our oversight function over the appropriations laws that we passed, particularly on the purchase of the vaccines."

Sens. Grace Poe and Francis Pangilinan last week urged officials to prioritize purchasing Pfizer vaccines but cited as their reason the government's own approval of the jab for emergency use. No other coronavirus vaccine has been granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the country's Food and Drug Administration.

Sinovac's request to conduct clinical trials was only approved by the FDA on Tuesday. 

"For us in the Senate, it has never been about choosing a particular brand. The origin of the vaccine is inconsequential for as long as it is guaranteed safe, effective, and available on time," Sen. Risa Hontiveros said partially in Filipino.

"It is the duty of the Senate, under the principle of checks and balances, to ensure that the public funds for vaccine procurement [are] used efficiently and for the best buy."

Senators: Cabinet members, not Senate, hold vaccine preference

Lacson and Hontiveros both noted that it was President Duterte's appointees, not the Senate, who showed partiality towards a vaccine brand.

"It is the Palace itself, through its Spokesperson, in its prior statements, that definitely showed [a] preference for a single Chinese vaccine, despite reports of its lower efficacy, and questionable pricing cost," Hontiveros said, referring to doses manufactured by Sinovac Biotech.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque has long defended the jabs, claiming that they are being sold to the country by China at a "BFF" rate nearer to the P650 price offered to Indonesia and not over P3,000 — a rate which Sen. Sonny Angara's office received from the health department late last year.

Roque also said that he would personally prefer to receive a Chinese-made vaccine.

Top officials such as Roque, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, have all said that they are bound by confidentiality disclosure agreements with vaccine manufacturers and cannot reveal the exact prices of the jabs being acquired by the government.

They have also varied on the finality of the deal with Sinovac, with Galvez claiming that the Philippines can still back out of the purchase only to be contradicted by Roque who said the obligation was binding.

Despite this, they have all but revealed the ballpark amount after sustained pressure from senators and Filipinos online, with Roque saying it nears the P650 price per jab given to Indonesia and Galvez saying that the amount will not be more than P700 per dose.

"If at the outset during our first hearing last Jan. 11, [Galvez] already declared we can get Sinovac vaccines for P700 thereabouts, then that’s the end of the story,” Lacson said.

"So the controversy is their own doing. It’s not the Senate, it’s not the senators. We’re performing our job, oversight. We did it in the Bureau of Customs, PhilHealth, and Bureau of Corrections. Things happen when we investigate in aid of legislation,” he added partially in Filipino.

Transparency needed for successful inoculation program

"People have the right to full information before vaccines are chosen," Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said in an interview with CNN Philippines' "The Source," adding that the confusion surrounding vaccine prices "generate questions of trust."

Sen. Manny Pacquiao also said in Filipino: "[W]e all have the right to know all the transactions entered into by the government, especially if it has to do with the treasury."

No data has been released by Sinovac on the efficacy of their vaccine. The latest trial results from Brazil showed that they were 50.4% effective, barely meeting the threshold of 50% to 60% set by global health authorities.

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As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: April 12, 2023 - 2:59pm

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)

April 12, 2023 - 2:59pm

Health Officer-in-Charge Maria Rosario Vergeire says the general population may now get their second booster jab.

"We're just waiting for the release of implementing guidelines, then we'll start rolling out our second booster for the general population," she says. — Gaea Katreena Cabico

August 23, 2022 - 10:12am

Amid questions on vaccines being administered, the Department of Health assures the public all doses are safe and effective as the “process of extending shelf life goes through thorough stability studies.”

“The government ensures that every vaccine that is injected with an extended shelf life has gone through studies, and is still safe and effective against COVID-19,” it adds.

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

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