In this month’s episode of pandemic response fuck ups, we may have missed our chance to acquire a vaccine for COVID-19 by January because our very own Health Secretary Francisco Duque III reportedly didn’t pass the required documents on time.
On Dec. 16, Inquirer.net reported that the Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Romualdez talked with Sen. Panfilo Lacson about Duque who “dropped the ball” on the Pfizer vaccine deal. Lacson mentioned that Romualdez had organized a negotiation between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to acquire the Pfizer vaccines as early as January 2021. However, Duque “failed” to submit the necessary documents for the deal to push through.
Sen. Lacson: A single document that Health Secretary Duque failed to submit was cause of Philippines missing out on chance to acquire 10M doses of Pfizer vaccine as early as January, an opportunity that went to Singapore. Negotiations started in July @inquirerdotnetpic.twitter.com/U106fkwZbL
“[The government] could have secured the delivery of 10 million Pfizer vaccines as early as January next year, way ahead of Singapore, but for the indifference of Duque, who failed to work on the necessary documentary requirement, namely the Confidentiality Disclosure Agreement (CDA) as he should have done,” Lacson said in a message acquired by Inquirer.net.
“The country representative of Pfizer was even following up on the submission of such documentary requirements,” he added, noting that Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III assured that funds would be “made available” for the vaccines. “As we now know, Singapore has the vaccines and we don’t.”
Earlier today, Duque claimed that Pfizer never promised the Philippines 10 million doses of the vaccine if the CDA was signed and clarified that these were only “indicative” numbers.
“The thing is, I do not recall na mayroong ganoong definitive, na, ‘ah makakakuha tayo ng 10 million doses’…There was nothing like that. Everything was indicative. I think if you get a chance to talk to [COVID-19 policy chief implementer and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr.], he would tell you there is a problem in the production of these vaccines as we are talking because mayroon daw problem sa kanilang raw materials,” he said in an interview on ABS-CBN News Channel.
“Besides, there was nothing binding. Nothing in our talks. So this was all open-ended, exploratory, and it was really meant to just get the data from Pfizer to know more about the safety profile of the vaccine, efficacy, result of the clinical phase 1 and 2 trials because at that time, they [were] still not done with their clinical trials phase 3,” he added. “No deadline was set by Pfizer. Nothing in all our documents. Nothing would show that there was a deadline.”
Sec. Duque clarified that negotiations for the Pfizer vaccines are ongoing and that “there is no such thing as dropping the ball” since, he said, the DOH was still reviewing details of the CDA.
According to Romualdez, however, Lacson said, that this ongoing deal is a “renewed initiative after they missed the bus the first time.”
On Dec. 11, the US Food and Drug Administration issued the first emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. Despite Pfizer’s vaccine being FDA approved in the US and reportedly costing P2,379 per dose, there are talks of the Philippine government choosing to prioritize a more expensive and possibly dangerous vaccine from the Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac.
While pandemic times are definitely confusing and frustrating, we urge the government to take these negotiations and health concerns over COVID-19 vaccines seriously. Lives continue to be at stake as the national government takes its sweet time working on the required documents.