MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday threw his support behind the decision of Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr., to order the COVID-19 vaccine made by Sinovac Biotech, amid criticisms about China-made vaccine's efficacy.
Duterte, in his weekly public address, said he is not forcing local government officials from getting the same vaccine brand if they have the resources to buy from other pharmaceutical companies.
"Maraming local government units who opted to go on their own. Sila ang magbili, may pera sila, at sila ang mamili ng kanilang vaccine," he said during his weekly public address.
(Many local governments opted to go on their own. They will use their own money to choose and buy their own vaccines.)
"We are not forcing anybody to join the cause of the national government. Hindi namin pinipilit na sumali kayo sa ibibigay na bakuna ng national government," Duterte added.
(We are not forcing anybody to join the cause of the national government. We are not forcing you to join the vaccination program of the national government.)
Duterte claimed Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine is just as good as those made by other manufacturers.
"The bakuna (vaccine) that Sec. Galvez is buying is as good as any other bakuna na naimbento ng mga Amerikano o ng mga Europeans (vaccine developed by the Americans or Europeans)," he said.
"Hindi nagkulang ang Chinese, hindi sila nagkulang sa utak. Bright itong mga Intsik and they would not venture kung hindi sapat, if it is not safe, sure and secure... That is the guarantee," Duterte said.
(The Chinese are good. They are bright enough not to venture into something if it is not safe, sure and secure. That is the guarantee."
However, the coronavirus vaccine developed by China's Sinovac only showed a "general efficacy" of 50.4 percent in a late-stage trial in Brazil, the company's local partners said on Tuesday.
Piecemeal disclosure from global studies of the vaccine, called CoronaVac, have added to concerns that immunizations developed by Chinese producers are not subject to the same public scrutiny as US and European alternatives.
According to data from Senator Sonny Angara's office, two doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Sinovac are priced at P3,629, making it the second most expensive vaccine next to Moderna, which is priced at P3,904 to P4,504 for two doses.
Meanwhile, two doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine only cost P610.
Most local government units, including Duterte's hometown Davao City, ordered the COVID-19 vaccine made by AstraZeneca.
Duterte said he supports Galvez and whatever decision the latter makes is as good as his.
"Ako, kung ano ang piliin ni Sec. Galvez, would bind me. Parang ako na rin ang bumili ng bakuna. So hindi ako magbili ng bakuna na hindi tama," he said.
(I am bound by Sec. Galvez's choice. It's like I am the one who bought the vaccines, so I will not buy something that is not right.)
"Ultimately, actually, sa lahat ng ito, kung may bulilyaso, 'yung amin sa gobyerno na pinili at nine-negotiate ngayon, kung may bulilyaso, at the end of the day, akin talaga 'yang responsibilidad," Duterte added.
(Ultimately, actually, at the end of everything, of there will be a problem, at the end of the day, it will be my responsibility.)
Duterte also told local government officials that although they have the freedom to choose which brand of vaccine to buy, there are still laws to follow.
"I'm now addressing myself to the mayors, governors. You can choose any vaccine you like to buy. Wala kaming pakialam kung ano ang pipiliin ninyo. Hindi kami makiaalam sa lahat ng bagay in the purchase," he said.
(I'm now addressing myself to the mayors, governors. You can choose any vaccine you like to buy. We will not meddle in your choice. We will not interfere in the process of purchasing the vaccines.)
"Alam ninyo kasi may batas tayo na lahat ng medisina, whatever nature and whatever be its characteristics, magdaan talaga muna ng pagsilip sa gobyerno. Ang gobyerno kasi ang last eh. Ang gobyerno kasi ang babagsak dito, after sa bakuna ng iba tapos may babagsak na 5,000 Filipino, ililibing ako dito," Duterte added.
(We have laws that all medicines, whatever their nature or characteristics may be, it should first be checked by the government. The government will ultimately be affected. If 5,000 Filipinos suffer from the vaccines, I will be buried.)
Duterte also claimed that the Philippines is at the tail-end of the vaccine supply chain since other countries have already secured their own supply.
"Wala pa ang supply natin, ginagawa pa (They are still manufacturing the supply for us)," he said.
Galvez earlier said the government will sign a supply deal for 20 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from British drug group AstraZeneca.
The government has also secured 30 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from the Serum Institute of India, and 25 million doses from Sinovac Biotech.
The Philippines will also get 30 million doses from COVAX Facility, a global initiative that aims to ensure equitable access to the vaccines for poor nations, said Galvez.
Authorities are also negotiating for vaccine deals with drug groups Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, he said.
Some 13 million Filipinos are also set to get COVID-19 vaccines from the private sector and local governments, most of which have already signed agreements with AstraZeneca.