MANILA - A Philippine envoy on Friday said that it was unfortunate that the country missed an opportunity to procure the first batch of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine by January, but added there was no use pointing blame.
"It's useless for us to blame people kasi walang mangyayari sa atin d'yan (nothing will happen to us). The bottom line is, we did not act quickly which we all have to accept, and just simply move on," Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said.
Romualdez said in an interview on TeleRadyo that the Philippines must start moving and look at other pharmaceutical companies that have already developed vaccines against COVID-19.
Meanwhile, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. allayed concerns that some officials were taking advantage of vaccine deals to line their pockets.
"We would also like to emphasize that no government official has access to the funds for vaccine procurement," Galvez said in a statement late Friday night.
"All deals will be made through international procurement agreements and all payments for the vaccines will be managed by our multilateral partners with the Department of Finance on the lead."
Romualdez earlier disclosed that 2 US biotechnology firms—Moderna and Arcturus—are ready to supply the Philippines up to 25 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccines by the third quarter of 2021 should the government find their proposals acceptable.
“In times like this, may [there is a] sense of urgency... we have to move quickly kasi alam naman natin na yung (because we know that) vaccine is the most sought after commodity in the world today and there are 9 billion people on this earth, 70 percent of that will need to have that vaccine,” said Romualdez.
On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said that 10 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine were set to be shipped to the Philippines in January until “somebody dropped the ball.”
Sen. Panfilo Lacson alleged it was Health Secretary Francisco Duque III who “failed to work on the necessary documentary requirements” needed for the Confidentiality Disclosure Agreement (CDA) with Pfizer.
“Yung CDA is the one to start it. You have to sign an agreement that you will not disclose the technology they used because they are going to show it to all our scientists in the Philippines before we agree to order that,” said Romualdez.
Duque denied causing the delay.
The health chief added that Pfizer never promised it would provide the Philippines 10 million doses of its vaccine upon signing the CDA.
Romualdez said such figure came from Locsin.
“We gave that number kasi Pfizer was already pressuring us, you have to tell us how many you want. The amount that was mentioned—10 million, which is basically for 5 million people, was the figure given by Sec. Locsin to me,” Romualdez said.
The vaccine, known to have one of the highest efficacy rates of at least 90 percent, was also developed by German company BioNTech.
"I think its really useless for us to delve on the past. Ang importante sa lahat (what's important is that) were talking now to Moderna, were talking to Novavax, were talking to Arcturus—lahat itong (all of these) pharmaceutical companies that will have the approval from the FDA here in the United States and I assume it will be safe for everyone all over the world and so there will be a lot of choices ahead of us,” he said.
Romualdez said the vaccine developed by Pfizer is “the golden standard for the vaccine.”
“It is really the best right now. 'Yung Moderna, of course is the next best. 'Yung Moderna I know nandyan na sila sa Pilipinas, kausap na nila si Sec. Galvez. Yung Novavax, wala pa kasing approval ng FDA dito and they are a little bit behind in terms of clinical test,” he said.
(I know Moderna is now in the Philippines talking to Sec. Galvez. But Novavax still has to secure approval from the US FDA.)
Meanwhile, Romualdez said they recommended for Arcturus to parter with a local pharmaceutical company in the Philippines to co-manufacture the vaccine.
“It’s more of a parang assembly, ipadadala d'yan (an assembly, it will be sent there). That one is a very good idea because Clark is a very good place for us to start to put these pharmaceutical company,” he said.
He added, “From what I understand, it's now with Sec. [Ramon] Lopez sa DTI [Department of Trade and Industry] I assume they’ve already found a partner. They are now in the stage of talking about how to put up a joint venture in Clark for this vaccine.”
Romualdez said there is a need for cooperation across sectors.
“If we don’t get the vaccines we have no nation to talk about. The jobs have been lost, the sooner we act quickly the better for all of us,” he said.
Galvez later echoed his earlier statement that "no ball was dropped" in the Pfizer deal, defending Duque.
"In reality, negotiations on many occasions will reach stalemate and gridlock when legal challenges, public interest and safety are at stake. The CDA or the Confidential Disclosure Agreement is just one of the many phases of the negotiations," Galvez said.
"We want to assure our countrymen that we are on track in the implementation of our Philippine National Vaccine Roadmap and there have been maybe some delays in our negotiations but still we were able to make up," he said.
Amid speculations of kickbacks and graft in acquiring vaccines, Galvez assured all transactions government has entered into are transparent, fair, and accountable.
"The main mode of procurement we have utilized in acquiring the vaccines has been through multilateral arrangements with Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank, and other global financing agencies," he pointed out.
"Our fund managers such as the World Bank and the ADB have laid out very stringent regulatory requirements and processes we need to follow such as WHO accreditation of the vaccines and Stringent Regulatory Authorization of foreign countries like the US, UK, Canada, or Singapore."
The vaccine czar said government is looking to sign a deal with vaccine makers by either late December or early January 2021.
"We are confident that given the timeline of production, initial deliveries will be made by March of next year and the inoculation program may commence within that period. I will say it again that all vaccines will pass FDA approval to ensure safety and efficacy," he said.
Government earlier said the Philippines may get vaccine supplies from Russia's Gamaleya Institute and 3 Chinese pharmaceutical firms by early 2021.