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Senators reject national gov’t ‘monopoly’ in vaccine deals
Published on: Wednesday, January 13, 2021
By: CNN Philippines
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MANILA: Several senators on Monday questioned the rule requiring local government units and private firms to enter into a tripartite deal with the national government to procure their own supply of Covid-19 vaccines, saying it runs against mass vaccination efforts.

The Senate convened into a Committee of the Whole to field all their concerns about the national coronavirus immunisation plan. A sticking point between lawmakers and the Food and Drug Administration and the national Covid-19 task force was their insistence on coursing through all purchase agreements with the national government, may it be private businessmen or local governments providing the funding.

“Why does the national government want to monopolise the purchase of vaccines? Why can’t they allow the LGUs and private sector to directly make their own purchases?,” Senator Ralph Recto said during the hearing.

“We are not forcing anyone. We are not mandating any Filipino to take the drug or to take the vaccine, but if we’re going to inoculate them and give them the option to have them, let’s give them the best,” he added.

Food and Drug Administration Director General Eric Domingo, who is handling the approval to use foreign-made vaccines in the country, said it was a matter of managing safety concerns over the vaccines which remain under development.

“It’s a safety concern po kasi... Ang emergency use authorisation of the FDA allows the use of a product that is still under development,” Domingo told lawmakers.

“Ang national government will take responsibility that’s why these vaccines can’t be sold to companies.”

Meanwhile, vaccine czar and Covid-19 policies chief implementer Carlito Galvez, Jr. said this was a limitation presented by the country’s public procurement laws, which applies to LGUs who have set aside funds for vaccine purchases.

Multiple cities have announced over the weekend the signing of supply deals with AstraZeneca, a vaccine developed in the United Kingdom and cleared for emergency use abroad.

As of this writing, the FDA has not cleared any coronavirus vaccine for use in the Philippines.

Galvez said the Philippine government is set to sign commitments from various drugmakers worth at least 100 million doses in the next two weeks, but delivery will depend on how fast the FDA can grant emergency use authorisation or EUA.

The vaccine czar acknowledged that LGUs have so far secured deals to guarantee an additional 13 million doses, which would contribute greatly to the country’s goal of achieving herd immunity – where there are smaller chances of infection with at least 60 percent of the population vaccinated for Covid-19 this year. – CNN Philippines

“The national government cannot afford to pay for all vaccines. If the LGUs who can afford it are ready to pay, that will help. Members of the private sector who are willing to buy doses for their employees should be allowed to do so, government can also cut costs, “Senator Cynthia Villar said.

Villar, wife of billionaire tycoon and former Senator Manny Villar, also blasted the requirement for businesses to donate half the doses it will buy for the use of the national government, citing the arrangement when private companies bought millions of doses of AstraZeneca vaccines in November.

Galvez clarified it was not required for private firms to make a donation, but it was a standard set by AstraZeneca to dispel the notion that only the rich can get vaccinated. However, he said private firms as well as local executives can only choose between AstraZeneca and Novavax for this mode of procurement.

Galvez said separately that the Moderna vaccine is also being footed by ports magnate Enrique Razon, Jr.

For the FDA’s part, Domingo said present laws prohibit an LGU from using public funds to buy an unregistered product or vaccine, which makes the tripartite deals with the national government their only choice. Galvez added that laws also ban the purchase of materials without a fixed price, volume, and a set delivery date, which put LGUs in a bind.

“Kung merong batas na mage-exempt just for Covid-19 vaccines from selling the doses despite unfinished clinical trials, we can allow them to transact directly with LGUs, companies,” testing czar and Covid-19 policies deputy chief implementer Vince Dizon added.

Vaccines procured by the state will be given first to health workers especially in Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao, and other areas with a high attack rate or number of active coronavirus cases.

“Why can we not resolve this regulatory roadblock? Allow and authorise not only the private sector but also the LGUs to be able to deal directly with the supplier,” Senator Franklin Drilon added, calling the state’s monopoly “unacceptable.”

Senator Francis Pangilinan said the FDA should put in place a reporting mechanism to track who received the vaccines and to check for possible adverse reactions rather than just simply restrict LGUs and other entities from buying their supplies.

Recto added he is open to possible amendments to existing laws to allow wider procurement of the vaccines. He pointed out that private businesses enjoy greater flexibility on spending on vaccines, as they do not have to comply with strict public procurement laws.

But the FDA said current rules are meant to allow the state to keep a close watch on who is getting vaccinated.

“We only register a drug and allow it for sale once the safety and efficacy is fully established and that takes at least two years... ‘Yung EUA, special po ito,” the FDA chief said. “Wala pong companies na magre-register and take that responsibility to say they have a fully-registered drug.”

The decision on Pfizer’s EUA request will be out this week, while the call on AstraZeneca may be announced later this month, Domingo said. Galvez added that the country’s first vaccine doses expected to be shipped by February 20 will come from either Sinovac or Pfizer, although both have yet to be cleared for local use.



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