MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte is getting impatient over delays in the supposed arrival this month of the country's first COVID-19 vaccines, Malacañang said on Friday, as the Philippines trailed some of its regional neighbors that have launched their inoculation drive.
"Tatapatin ko kayo: si Presidente ang nagsalita na. Siya mismo naiinip na," said Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque.
(I will be direct with you, the President has spoken. He is growing impatient.)
"Kinakailangan dumating na ang mga bakuna kaya naman siguro dahil nagsalita na ng ganyan ang Presidente, e gagalaw na nang mas mabilis ang lahat," he said in a televised interview.
(The vaccines need to arrive. Now that the President has spoken, everyone will move faster.)
The Philippines is negotiating supply agreements with seven manufacturers for 148 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, so it can inoculate 70 million adults, or two-thirds of its more than 108 million population.
Vaccine manufacturers want protection from future product liability claims before they deliver the shots, authorities have said.
Carlito Galvez, a former general in charge of the country's COVID-19 vaccinations strategy, has said the absence of an indemnification program has delayed delivery of 117,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech shots through the vaccine-sharing COVAX Facility.
The government had planned to use those, which were due to arrive in mid-February, to kick off its vaccination campaign.
The supposed Feb. 23 arrival of 600,000 shots from China's Sinovac Biotech might also be delayed due to lack of an emergency use authorization in the Philippines, Roque said on Thursday.
Duterte has asked Congress to quickly approve bills granting indemnity to COVID-19 vaccine makers from legal claims stemming from their emergency use.
Further delays could derail economic recovery after the country's worst contraction on record last year, when it slumped 9.5 percent, the worst in Southeast Asia.
The Philippines has the region's second-highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths, at 555,163 and 11,673, respectively.
— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Reuters