MANILA - The controversy over the government's supposed failure to secure early access to COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer is now irrelevant, the Philippines' envoy to the United States said Monday, as the country is also in talks with other pharmaceutical companies for possible vaccine deals.
Interviewed on ANC, Amb. Jose Manuel Romualdez said it was time to "move on" from the alleged bungled deal that would have allowed the country to acquire 10 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from the US drug maker as early as January next year had Health Secretary Francisco Duque III promptly worked on the necessary documentary requirements.
"I think it's time for us just to move on. Quite a number of other vaccine companies are already coming into play," Romualdez told "Matters of Fact".
"All these controversies surrounding the Pfizer [deal] is really irrelevant already at this point because we now are moving towards the direction of getting more of these vaccines that we require for our fellow citizens."
For Romualdez, a possible deal with US biotech firm Moderna, which he said the Philippines was already in advanced talks with, would be more "advantageous" for the country because its vaccine candidate doesn’t require specialized cold storage facilities.
"Moderna... would probably be even more, I would say, advantageous for us because it doesn't require the very low of freezing of vaccines," he said.
Moderna's vaccine is based on messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, that relies on synthetic genes that can be generated and manufactured in weeks, and produced at scale more rapidly than conventional vaccines.
Pfizer's vaccine also uses mRNA technology but requires cold storage requirements.
Romualdez also defended the embattled health chief amid accusations the latter cost the Philippines' quick access to Pfizer's vaccine.
"I don't want to describe it as really dropping the ball. It's more of the fact that I think that his urgency was not quite clear," he said.
Romualdez believed Duque was just being "cautious" following the 2017 controversy over the nationwide dengue vaccination program, Dengvaxia.
"I think he just wanted to be sure that he was cautious, that he was not signing away something that will not be good for the government," the envoy said.
"We'll have to assume he had all the good intentions why he needed his legal team to take a look at it before he puts his signature on the dotted line."
Last week, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. had said someone made a mistake in the race to get the first batch of vaccines from Pfizer.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson alleged it was Duque who “failed to work on the necessary documentary requirements” needed for the confidential disclosure agreement (CDA) with Pfizer.
Duque denied causing the delay.
Malacañang had said the Philippines was also eyeing to use 4 vaccine candidates from Russia and China. These are from Russia's Gamaleya Institute and China's Sinovac, Sinopharm and CanSino.
By the second quarter of next year, the country expects to get its vaccine supply from British drug maker AstraZeneca, of which 2.6 million doses were secured by the private sector.
The COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Covax, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and Moderna are supposedly set to arrive in the Philippines during the third quarter.
The Philippines has a total of 459,789 confirmed COVID-19 cases, as of Dec. 20, including 21,708 active infections, 8,947 deaths, and 429,134 recoveries.