'Where is Uncle Sam now?' Roque twits US, a top COVAX funder

Workers carefully unload the crates containing the doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca at the Bulwagang Kalayaan in Villamor Air Base, Pasay City on March 4, 2021.
Presidential Photo/King Rodriguez

MANILA, Philippines — Palace spokesperson Harry Roque has incorrectly claimed that the country has yet to receive a single COVID-19 vaccine from the US despite it being the top donor of the COVAX facility, vaccines from which arrived in the Philippines in March.

Roque made the claim in an online dialogue with the Chinese Filipino community on Wednesday, according to a post by News5.

"If the president did not come to power, our only BFF will be the Americans," he said. "Have we gotten a single vial of vaccine from the Americans? The answer is No."

For context, COVAX is a global initiative led by the World Health Organization. Its aim is to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for developing and poor nations.

An initial 525,600 doses from the facility arrived in March, with officials expecting nearly a million more this April.

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Roque's claim is disputed by figures from the US Embassy in Manila. In a March 5 release, it said that it has donated $2 billion or P97.2 billion to the facility, "by far the largest contribution, to ensure the Philippines and other countries" would get the jabs.

The P97.2 billion is only part of the US government's total planned donation of $4 billion, or P194.4 billion.

"This support is critical to controlling the pandemic, slowing the emergence of new variants, and helping to restart the global economy," the embassy said.

Other countries such as Germany ($1 billion), United Kingdom ($735 million), the European Union ($489 million), and Japan ($200 million), to name a few, have contributed as well.

RELATED: Pfizer deal just delayed; Duque dropped the ball?

"So my question to those noisy within the opposition who are pro-Americans, where's Uncle Sam now?" he said. Roque, in September 2020, justified the pardon that President Rodrigo Duterte granted Joseph Scott Pemberton over the killing of Jennifer Laude, saying it will give the Philippines access to more vaccines.

The granting of pardon to Pemberton is part of the president’s desire for the Philippines to benefit from a vaccine that America might develop,” Roque said in Filipino then.

Beijing's donation of 600,000 doses of Sinovac were the first to reach the country in end-February. By next month, another 400,000 donated doses arrived, as well as the 1 million doses which was the administration's first ever direct purchase.

No other purchase by April

Government talks with US vaccine developers such as Moderna and Pfizer have yet to reach purchase agreements.

The Philippines and Moderna have signed an agreement for 20 million doses, while none so far with Pfizer. This means that final procurement has yet to be made.

Officials in mid-February said AstraZeneca and Pfizer's vaccines under COVAX would be the first to arrive. While supplies from the former have arrived, there is no word so far on when Pfizer's would come. 

Further, senior administration officials in late December 2020 said the country could have had 10 million doses of Pfizer by early this year, had someone not "dropped the ball."

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. bared that he and Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez were in talks with the US State Department for this. 

Someone, apparently, "acted too late" which they later on revealed was Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, which he denied. 

As it stands, the Philippines remains heavily reliant on vaccines from the COVAX facility. It comes as it battles an ongoing surge in cases with record-high increases in both infections and deaths. 

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