MANILA — While the Philippines has already signed an indemnification agreement with the COVAX Facility in order to receive COVID-19 vaccines, the World Health Organization said Thursday there is another document that the government needs to sign before shipment of the supply can materialize.
“What the Philippines has signed is the COVAX Facility indemnification agreement. Unfortunately, we are still waiting for an indemnification agreement coming from the manufacturer. In this case, it’s Pfizer-BioNTech,” WHO Country Representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe said during a Laging Handa briefing.
“The Philippines is ready to sign that and send it, and upon completion of that only shall they schedule a shipment," he added.
"Last evening, I was made to understand this may happen within the next 2 weeks.”
Abeyasinghe said Pfizer has yet to send the agreement to countries, including the Philippines, that are expecting early roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX Facility. The COVAX Facility, of which WHO is a member, is an initiative that aims for equitable access to vaccines.
He explained that while Pfizer already has an indemnification agreement with countries directly purchasing its vaccines, it is still working on another agreement with the COVAX Facility.
He said the signing of that agreement would be the last step for the Philippines, which, as of Wednesday, has already logged more than 553,000 coronavirus infections and has also lagged behind some of its Asian neighbors in securing vaccines.
Without answering directly if an indemnification law is needed, Abeyasinghe said an “indemnification law or an indemnification agreement signed by the proper authority in the government is expected by all manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines.”
He explained this is because all COVID-19 vaccines are still under development and are being evaluated for rare side effects.
“Because of that, the manufacturers are asking for indemnification agreement for their protection once vaccines are being used in countries. And this has been agreed by all countries that are using the vaccine currently,” he said.
Besides the signing of the indemnification agreement with COVAX, the Philippine government is also pushing for an indemnification law. Malacañang said Thursday the proposed indemnification bill has been certified urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte.
The Philippines is expecting 117,000 doses only of Pfizer's vaccine in the initial delivery coming from COVAX, which was supposed to happen this week. But it was delayed due to the lack of an indemnification agreement.
Abeyasinghe confirmed that the recently signed agreement was just sent to the Philippines a week ago.
Currently, the WHO has only listed Pfizer and AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccines in its emergency use list.
Meanwhile, Abeyasinghe said the additional request of the Philippines for 2.3 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines from COVAX won’t be part of the early roll-out in the country, and may arrive in late March or April.
EFFECT OF VACCINES
The WHO official said countries that have already rolled out COVID-19 vaccines are seeing the “desired impact,” including lower number of deaths.
However, he warned that there is still no evidence that the vaccines can actually prevent transmission of the disease, although infected patients are supposed to be protected from severe symptoms.
The Philippines aims to vaccinate up to 70 million people to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus.