MANILA — The World Health Organization on Tuesday said the Philippines already received a side letter from COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer Pfizer and that minor details are just being finalized in order for the country to receive its much-needed vaccines.
Pfizer’s vaccines through the COVAX Facility, of which WHO is a member, were supposed to be the first to arrive in the Philippines this month but the shipment was delayed due to the required indemnification agreement. The delay pushed back the scheduled immunization for health workers, who are being prioritized by the government.
Besides the need for an indemnification law or deal, “there are some several minor clauses” mentioned in a side letter sent by Pfizer to the Philippine government on Tuesday morning, according to WHO Country Representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe.
“So we believe that within the day today or tomorrow, or whenever the legal teams (finalize) those documents, we will see a resolution of that impasse, and maybe there'll be room to hear about when potential vaccine deliveries can happen,” Abeyasinghe told reporters.
Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is the first to receive an emergency use approval by the Philippines' Food and Drug Administration, followed by AstraZeneca and Sinovac.
Abeyasinghe previously said that besides the indemnification deal with COVAX, Pfizer is requiring a separate agreement for all countries ordering their vaccines through the COVAX Facility. He attributed the delay to Pfizer and not the Philippines.
The WHO official noted the passage of an indemnification fund bill by the House of Representatives.
He said that while the Philippines fulfilled all of its commitments to the COVAX Facility, which aims to give low and middle-income countries equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, “there have been some delays in finalizing the commitments between Pfizer-BioNtech, the manufacturer, and the Philippine government.”
“And we believe that the, that limited quantity of Pfizer-BioNtech vaccines will be shipped as early as possible,” he said, “once these required exchange of letters is completed, and the requirements are met by the Philippine government and the manufacturer of the vaccine Pfizer-BioNtech.”
Abeyasinghe clarified that all countries receiving COVID-19 vaccines are required to sign indemnification agreements with COVAX or directly with the manufacturers.
“The indemnification requirement is because the vaccines that are being rolled out are emergency use listed vaccines and the manufacturers cannot take responsibility for rare adverse events that may occur in, say, one in a million or one in ten million people. And so they require protection,” he said when asked if the Philippines was required to sign an indemnification agreement only because of the so-called dengvaxia controversy that happened a few years ago.
The WHO official said the requirements are “common to all countries" and are "not specific to the Philippines."
"They are not related to any issue that happened in the country, relating to the vaccine, or anything else,” he said.
Abeyasinghe said a delayed rollout of vaccines will continue to put at risk those most vulnerable to COVID-19 and those most likely to die from severe illness.
“I believe that everybody is doing everything possible within their remit of responsibility to fast track vaccines deliveries to countries. So, I'm not sure what more we can do,” he said, adding that delays in the inoculation drive against COVID-19 are also happening in other countries.
The Philippines on Tuesday has reported a total of 564,865 COVID-19 cases, of which, 29,817 are active infections. The death toll stands at 12,107.
Aside from Pfizer's, donated vaccines from China's Sinovac are being expected this month by the Philippine government.