Afterthought remedial measures

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - February 22, 2021 - 12:00am

This is more sensible than certain kneejerk legislative measures.

Having served three consecutive terms in the past Congresses, Makati City Mayor Abby Binay frowns upon a proposed legislation that would allow local government units (LGUs) as well as private companies to directly negotiate for purchase of vaccines. Being put together for the procurement of vaccines to control the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, a number of lawmakers proposed this in the Emergency Vaccine Procurement bill submitted to the 18th Congress.

Mayor Binay adheres to the present vaccine procurement policy, not just for the anti-COVID vaccines, that this authority to directly negotiate should remain with the national government. Specifically, this is entrusted to the Department of Health (DOH) to ensure efficacy and safety of vaccines to be used by Filipinos, Mayor Binay cited.

In a panic scramble to bring in anti-COVID vaccines to our country, many bleeding hearts in the 18th Congress chastised the government for allegedly trying “to monopolize” negotiations for its procurement. Hence, the proposed legislative bills seeking to allow LGUs to directly negotiate for their anti-COVID vaccines were hurriedly crafted and filed last month.

In the end, it dawned upon the legislators the commonsense of the existing vaccine policy of the government and realized the folly of such a proposal.

The Senators are expected to pass Senate Bill (SB) 2057 on second and third reading today in just one plenary session following President Duterte’s certifying this as urgent administration measure. The counterpart measure House Bill (HB) 8648 is also set for approval today to pave the way for the immediate convening of the bicameral conference committee to consolidate differing versions of the proposed new vaccination law.

SB 2057 retained the provision to allow LGUs and the private sector some leeway to purchase vaccines. On the other hand, HB 8648 seeks to fast track the rollout of vaccines by allowing purchase by LGUs through a tripartite mechanism with the national government and manufacturers. The measure also authorizes LGUs to make advance payment – if required to qualify – for pre-order of COVID-19 vaccines from foreign manufacturers.

During our Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday, the feisty Mayor of Makati City explained it will not help any LGUs if given this authority to directly negotiate with vaccine-makers when all the anti-COVID vaccines are still under phase 3 clinical trials at this stage. Not to mention, she warns, it will be extremely dangerous.

For now only, the World Health Organization (WHO) allows the emergency use authority (EUA) that pharma companies must secure first from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of their respective countries and to countries that will use their anti-COVID vaccines. Under normal situation, it takes at least ten years to develop 100% safe and efficacious vaccine.

Mayor Binay revealed she recently received a direct offer via Google from Moderna which has also reached phase 3 clinical trial for their own anti-COVID vaccine. Mayor Binay decided against procuring Moderna because she finds the quoted price too stiff even if it got already their EUA from the US FDA.

Instead, Mayor Binay will buy more anti-COVID vaccines for her constituents that have gotten EUA from our DOH-attached FDA here. Initially, Makati City entered into the Tripartite Agreement with the national government and private companies with Oxford’s AstraZeneca anti-COVID vaccines.

Meanwhile, the Senate and House bills also contain other measures to address the other pressing problems and challenges that cropped up in the vaccination program of the National Task Force (NTF) being implemented by chief implementer and designated “vaccine czar” Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. The proposed bills now included a P500-million indemnification fund to pay vaccinees for any “adverse events” directly related to the anti-COVID vaccines, or unexpected side effects after inoculation.

The multinational pharma companies, like Pfizer and AstraZeneca, that are donating to the COVAX Facility of the WHO required this “indemnification clause,” Galvez disclosed. The pharma companies want to immunize themselves from any liabilities and legal suits in case of any “adverse events” as what happened, he cited, to French pharma company Sanofi from their dengvaxia anti-dengue vaccine trials in the Philippines.

According to Mayor Binay, the city government allocated as much as P1 billion for their vaccination program, including the advance payment for AstraZeneca. The former Davao City Mayor earlier frowned upon advance payments demanded by pharma firms. Faced with possibly losing the only solid vaccine supply deal for the Philippines, the Chief Executive finally relented to delegate the authority to LGUs. Mayor Binay, along with the rest of LGUs in this Tripartite Agreement, got the Palace’s go-signal last Friday authorizing them to release their advance payments to AstraZeneca before the Feb. 24 deadline.

Mayor Binay also counts upon the WHO “Solidarity Trial” of all anti-COVID vaccines where US pharma giant Johnson & Johnson has chosen the city of Makati as one of the sites for the phase 3 clinical trial of their Janssen vaccine in the Philippines. As the only vaccine that is good for one-shot dose, Janssen though has yet to submit its EUA application to our FDA.

Admitting she could not recall if she signed any “confidentiality” or non-disclosure agreement, Mayor Binay pins her hope to the success of Janssen that would have 1,000 participants from Makati City for the clinical trial of their anti-COVID vaccine.

Mayor Binay is also heeding the advice of the “vaccine czar” to provide more funding support to their vaccination personnel and hire more health care workers instead of procuring cold storage facilities. It makes more sense again as far as Mayor Binay is concerned because the NTF’s cold storage chain facilities for the vaccines are already located within the NCR LGUs.

This is more sensible than certain kneejerk legislative measures.

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