Senators call for 'transparency' in COVID-19 vaccine procurement

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 21 2022 06:09 PM

A health worker prepares Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine inside a mall in Makati City on July 28, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File
A health worker prepares Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine inside a mall in Makati City on July 28, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — Senators are seeking “transparency” in the COVID-19 deals entered into by the previous administration and vaccine manufacturers.

State auditors recently said they felt constrained by the "non-disclosure agreement" or NDA that former finance officials and vaccine makers signed in 2020, as the world scrambled for COVID-19 vaccines.

“I am for transparency," Sen. Christopher Go, an ally of the previous administration, said Monday.

"Kung kailangang ipatawag po yung mga previous secretaries na involved po dito sa signing ng NDA... karapatan po ng mamayang Pilipino na malaman kung magkano, saan binili at san napunta ang pera ng gobyerno. And I'm sure si former President Duterte po is for transparency also,” he said in interview. 

(If it's necessary to summon the previous secretaries involved in the NDA signing, it's the right of the public to know how much was spent, where it was procured and where government funds went.) 

Sen. Francis "Chiz" Escudero last week said there was no official report on how much the government spent for COVID-19 vaccines because specifics, including the price per vaccine and quantity purchased, were covered by the NDA. 

State auditors said they only audited the inventory and the utilization of the purchased vaccines. 

Go said he had no access to the agreement, which he said the Commission on Audit could subpoena. 

“Kung kailangan po ng COA, part of our legal process or yung obligasyon po sa purchase to divulge na po at ipakita, kung kakakailanganin, dapat ipakita for transparency,” he said. 

(If required by COA, part of our legal process or obligation in the purchase is to divulge and show it for transparency.)

The senator argued that the Department of Health should also exercise transparency in explaining vaccine wastage. 

The Department of Health earlier Monday disclosed some 31 million COVID-19 vaccine doses worth 15.6 billion went to waste. 

Of the total wasted doses, some 24 million expired due to short shelf life. The remaining 7 million shots went to waste due to temperature excursion, while other vials were opened and unused, DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire told TeleRadyo. 

Even Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III expressed concern over the reported wastage. 

“Indeed P15 billion down the drain na parang wala lang sa kanila 'within acceptable limits' pa daw, as if we just print money out of thin air with no economic consequences,” Pimentel said.

(It seems like it's nothing to them. They said it's within acceptable limits.)

During last week's Senate plenary budget deliberations, Sen. Pia Cayetano disclosed that wasted COVID-19 vaccines made up 12 percent of the 250 million doses received and procured by the government.

The World Health Organization has set the threshold of vaccine wastage at 10 percent. 

Sen. Risa Hontiveros frowned at the volume of wasted vaccines.

“Wala tayong luxury na magtapon ng mas mataas pa sa P15.6 bilyon sa kaliwa't kanang krisis at demand for funding of equally important government programs,” she said. 

(We do not have the luxury to waste P15.6 billion given various crises and the demand for funding of equally important government programs.)

Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa meanwhile said government could prevent vaccine wastage by educating the public on the benefits of immunization.

“You can’t blame the government also for preparing for that. Alam naman natin talaga agawan ang vaccines di mo masabi nag oversupply, nag-over procurement, we can’t say that kasi kung talagang ginamit yan. Pero factor in talaga naman natin ang attitude ng ibang Pilipino na ayaw magpabakuna, tignan natin ang root cause,” Dela Rosa said. 

(We know that the world was scrambling for vaccines, so we can't say that it was oversupply, over procurement. But a factor is the attitude of some Filipinos who refuse to get vaccinated. We think that is the root cause.)

Vergeire has noted that the earlier coronavirus jabs had a shelf life of just 6 months from the date of bottling.

COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among Filipinos also increased in the latter part of the year, she added. 


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