Video courtesy of Kapihan sa Manila Bay
MANILA — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III defended himself anew on Wednesday amid allegations he had "dropped the ball" in securing immediate supply of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for the country, saying that the health department followed proper protocol in negotiating with the drug maker.
“What we did was correct,” he said during the Kapihan sa Manila Bay virtual forum.
Duque pointed out that the Department of Health did not even receive any formal notice that the United States would be prioritizing the Philippines once Pfizer’s vaccine is approved for use.
“Sa totoo lang wala kaming natanggap na sulat sa kanila (Actually, we did not receive any letter from them),” he said. “Not even IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19 response) was in receipt of any communication official from these people who have been mentioning about this botched agreement. There’s no such thing.”
Duque explained that they are still at the stage of studying the confidentiality data agreement with Pfizer, which will allow the government to check the results of their previous studies.
“There was no dropping of the ball. Ang ginawa natin dito due diligence,” he added. “Kung may provisions doon na sa tingin natin onerous or disadvantageous to government ay hindi naman natin puwedeng pirmahan iyon. That would be irresponsible and reckless, especially we are talking about billions of pesos worth of vaccines here.”
(There was no dropping of the ball. What we are doing here is due diligence… If there were provisions there that are onerous or disadvantageous to government then we cannot sign that. That would be irresponsible and reckless, especially we are talking about billions of pesos worth of vaccines here.)
“We have learned very costly lessons in the past about certain immunization experiences. And we do not wish that to happen again,” he said.
Duque said procuring vaccines is not as easy as, say, buying chocolates, because of specific storage requirements.
He said the country still has no ultra low-temperature storage facility, which is required by the Pfizer vaccines. Duque said this is because of the novel technology used by the company to produce a vaccine.
“The problem is if people talk and yet they do not have the competence to comprehend the complexities of the vaccine selection, scientific evaluation, procurement, the distribution, production, storage, logistical requirements, the actual immunization program. These are all the imperatives of our vaccine roadmap and you must understand the process,” he said.
Duque simply said he would rather focus on work, when asked how his working relationship was with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., who had first bared that an official had "dropped the ball" on the vaccine deal.
“We have too much on our plate. We cannot spend our time bickering,” he said.