MANILA — The Department of Health on Thursday denied speculation that kickbacks could have pushed authorities to procure the COVID-19 vaccine from China's Sinovac Biotech, which some lawmakers have flagged for its price and lower efficacy rate.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan in December said he hoped there was no "kickvacc" in the supposed failure of the government to secure the delivery of 10 million vaccine doses from US-based Pfizer this month, forcing the Philippines to rely on Sinovac.
"Wala naman pong katotohanan 'yan," said DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez has integrity, he said.
"Hindi po niya papayagan o papahintulutan ang mga ganitong katiwalaan ay makakaapekto sa kumpiyansa, tiwala, at paniwala ng taumbayan sa atin pong COVID-19 vaccination program."
(He will not allow corruption to affect the confidence, trust and belief of the public in our COVID-19 vaccination program.)
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The first 50,000 doses of Sinovac are set to arrive in February, and will be allocated to health workers, officials earlier said.
President Rodrigo Duterte has said Chinese-made coronavirus vaccines are as good as the shots developed by the Americans and the Europeans.
"The Chinese are not lacking in brains," Duterte said in a late-night televised address on Wednesday. "The Chinese are bright. They would not venture (into producing vaccines) if it is not safe, sure and secure."
Duterte made the remarks as questions have been raised over the level of protection Sinovac Biotech's experimental COVID-19 vaccine can provide, after researchers in Brazil released late-stage clinical data showing efficacy that was lower than initially announced.
Pangilinan has called on the government to cancel the purchase of the Sinovac vaccine, one of seven it is lining up as it plans to begin immunization next month.
Duterte, who has pursued warmer ties with Beijing, has said previously his preference was for his country to source its COVID-19 vaccines from either China or Russia.
The Philippines has among the most coronavirus cases in Asia but has trailed regional peers in securing vaccines, with which it hopes this year to inoculate at least two-thirds of its population.
An opinion poll showed on Thursday less than a third of Filipinos are willing to get inoculated against the coronavirus as many have voiced concerns over safety.
- With a report from Reuters