In Response to Mr. Randy David's Column entitled, 'Vaccine Diplomacy' | Inquirer Opinion
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In Response to Mr. Randy David’s Column entitled, ‘Vaccine Diplomacy’

07:56 PM April 29, 2021

Greetings.

We refer to the editorial column entitled “Vaccine Diplomacy” (Annex A) written by Mr. Randy David and  which was published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer in its website[1] on April 18, 2021.  While the mentioned columnist may have had the best intentions in conveying his opinion on the subject matter, we write to clear up some inaccuracies and insinuations which we demand to be rectified at the earliest opportunity.

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As we live in vulnerability and uncertainty brought by the COVID-19 Pandemic, please understand that it is imperative to build public confidence and trust in the National Vaccination Program as we aspire to go back to our normal lives after a successful rollout. Thus, this is not the right time and venue to create unnecessary anxiety and pessimism in the public.

Allow us to point out and respond to a few pressing points from the article:

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  1. On the Alleged Preference to Chinese Vaccines

In the Editorial Column, it was mentioned that the Duterte administration preferred a Chinese vaccine not for scientific reasons, but because of the friendly relations between Philippine and China.

Please note, however, that while we recognize the long-standing diplomatic relations between these two sovereign governments, it is but an unfair allegation to say that the Philippine Government is discriminating against western vaccines over those manufactured and supplied from China, such as the Sinovac (CoronaVac) Vaccine.

Even during the start of the national vaccination rollout, the National Government has been clear and consistent that it has adopted a vaccine diversification strategy, as recommended by the World Health Organization. This is to ensure that there is a steady supply of vaccines to countries with no vaccine manufacturing capability, such as the Philippines, and given the unprecedented global demand. With this being said, it must be noted that SinoVac/Coronavac is just one of a portfolio of seven (7) vaccine manufacturers which have entered into Supply Agreements or are currently under negotiations with the Philippine Government, namely: Pfizer/BioNTech, Novavax/Covovax (Serum Institute of India), Moderna,  Janssen (Johnson&Johnson), AstraZeneca and Russian Development Institute Federation (Sputnik V).

It should be underscored further that vaccines procured by the Philippine Government have been vetted by the Vaccine Expert Panel of the NTF and are required to secure the necessary approvals by the Health Technology Assessment Council  (HTAC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) through an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) prior to their delivery into the country.

  1. On China’s Vaccine Rollout

Another allegation made in the column was about the absence of information about the national vaccination rollout of China, which could result in more confusion as to why the National Government purchased a vaccine with lower efficacy compared to other brands.

As may be verified from publicly available information, including Bloomberg, China leads second place in terms of vaccine administration with its inoculation of around 172 million citizens, next to the United States. In fact, Sinovac’s CoronaVac is one of the major vaccines used by China in its inoculation program, alongside fourteen other countries in the world including Turkey, Indonesia and Chile. This brings Sinovac’s CoronaVac as the 4th most used vaccine in the world.

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  1. On the vaccines deployed in the Philippines

The column mentioned that the government’s “pro-China stance” was needlessly translated into an early disinclination to actively source vaccines from the West, given that the first million doses were donations by and purchases from China.

While it is true that as of April 28, 2021, the Philippines has received a total of 3,525,600 doses which includes AstraZeneca vaccines donated through the COVAX facility, as well as CoronaVac vaccines both donated by the Chinese Government and those procured from Sinovac by the Government, it should once again be emphasized that these are just a subset of the overall portfolio of vaccines to be accessed primarily from seven (7) vaccine manufacturers as mentioned above.

In fact, based on concluded and ongoing negotiations by the National Task Force Against COVID-19’s Vaccine Cluster, the Philippines, following a whole-of-nation and whole-of-society approach  will be able to secure access for  more than the target 148 million doses within the year, which is within the prescribed threshold to achieve herd immunity by the World Health Organization.

The above total includes around 44 Million doses of COVID-19 vaccines which will be accessed from the COVID-19 Vaccine Access (COVAX) Facility, a portfolio of vaccines accessible through the World Health Organization (WHO), the GAVI vaccine alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. Around 33 Million doses will be free of charge while the remaining balance may already be funded by the existing loans with the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank under a cost-sharing agreement with COVAX.

  1. On the Alleged Delays by the Government

The author made mention that Government agencies came up with all kinds of reasons to delay the procurement process such as the vetting of the Department of Justice on the Non-disclosure Agreement, the limitations on prepayment of orders and the indemnity provisions to protect manufacturers against liability.

Transactions involving the use of public funds are imbued with public interest. To ensure that contracts are not prejudicial to the interest of the Government, complete staff work and standard commercial and legal due diligence review had to be undertaken before these agreements were executed. The steps observed by the National Government which included the (a) signing of non-disclosure agreements; (b) execution of term sheets; (c) formal negotiations; and (d) finalization and signing of supply agreements, are all but ordinary business practice. These were requirements imposed not by the Government, but by the vaccine manufacturers.

While the author acknowledges that there is a worldwide vaccine scarcity, he fails to appreciate that the resulting supplier’s market gave vaccine manufacturers a high bargaining position in the vaccine market. Thus, limitations under Republic Act No. 9184 with respect to the threshold amount for advance payments posed some early challenges for vaccine manufacturers. Also, since vaccine manufacturers controlled the market, they were able to determine whether a contractual indemnity provision (which is standard for a lot of government contracts) was a sufficient safeguard. While the National Government readily bound itself to contractual indemnity provisions, it took legislation, specifically Republic Act No. 11525, to afford immunity to vaccine manufacturers and other participants in the supply chain.

There is likewise no basis for the allegation of delay in the rollout of the vaccination program of the Government. While it may be true that the Philippines is able to supply vaccines for a low percentage of its total population, we must acknowledge that the Philippines belongs to the top 25% quartile, ranking 42th out of 190 countries in terms of vaccine administration as of April 25. More importantly, the Philippines ranks 4th in the Southeast Asian Region, next to Indonesia, Singapore and Myanmar, respectively.

We must also accept the reality that the bulk of the global vaccine supply – more than 80% – have either been procured, reserved or both by rich countries which have supported the research and development, as well as the manufacturing of these anti-COVID vaccines. This is because these nations have invested considerable resources into the pharmaceutical giants not only to ensure that their citizens get the first shot once the vaccines are ready for deployment, but also to guarantee that they are able to get a bigger portion of the vaccine supply once they are available. In the meantime, countries like the Philippines have to compete with each other for what is left of the remaining supply.

Mr. David must also understand that placing early orders with these manufacturers will not guarantee that the exact number of doses they negotiated for will be delivered and within the timeframe agreed upon by both parties. Canada, for example, has secured over six times of its population’s needed vaccine requirement and is one of the first few countries that started their vaccination program in 2020. At present, however, only 16.6% of the country’s total population has been vaccinated. This shows that while obtaining early access to the vaccines is crucial, there are other factors that need to be carefully considered to ensure a higher vaccination rate, and more so, a successful vaccine rollout.

  1. On Private Sector Participation

The editorial also mentioned that the move by the Private Sector and Local Government Units was the one last hope to get vaccines, given the extremely tight global supply. With all due respect, we posit that the National Government has already crafted a procurement strategy in place to procure vaccines, primarily from around Php 58.4 Billion in loans from three Multilateral Financial Institutions; namely, the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. This is part of the total Php 82.5 Billion budgeted by the National Government to inoculate more than 70% of the population, which is the minimum requirement for herd immunity. At the onset, it must be clarified that we had sufficient financing for the vaccines.

While we acknowledge and recognize the contribution of the private sector and LGUs in the procurement process, we should understand that regardless of the source of funding, the delivery of vaccines will still pose a great difficulty given the scarcity in global supply.

An additional 26 Million doses of vaccines accessed from the private sector have complemented those procured by the National Government. Unlike any other nation in the world where it is the National Government procuring vaccines for emergency use, the Philippine Government has promulgated the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021, where private businesses and LGUs are also allowed to procure vaccines for their constituents and employees. Said procurement, however, may only be undertaken through a multi-party agreement with the National Government to ensure strict pharmacovigilance and promote equitable distribution of vaccine supply. In this way, any unwarranted hoarding or commercialization of doses will be strictly monitored. The National Government is likewise tasked to ensure that there is price uniformity and no unwarranted price competition in these multiparty agreements.

 

  1. On Appeals to Excess Vaccine Supply from other Nations

On a final note, the Article suggests that the government should “nudge” other countries such as the United States for extra doses of Vaccines. As mentioned, the National Government is able to secure and negotiate doses for more than the target 70 million target population through various modes of procurement and vaccine access. In any case, our embassies have reached out to nations such as Australia, Canada, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom for the possibility of vaccine sharing programs to further supplement our current supply of vaccines.

Based on the foregoing, we hope that Inquirer.net has been enlightened on the vaccination efforts made by the National Government, and as such, request that the editorial, which contains inconsistencies and misleading information be clarified the soonest. As we have to perform our duty to inform the public of our efforts,  it is also incumbent on the free press to do their research thoroughly before proceeding with unfounded allegations.  This is the hallmark of professionalism and diplomacy which is the very subject of your article. I cannot emphasize enough that the country needs to build public confidence and trust in the National Vaccination Program, and we hope your company should contribute its fair share to the same.

Thank you.

Very truly yours,

(Sgd.)

SECRETARY CARLITO G. GALVEZ, JR.

Chief Implementer, National Task Force Against COVID-19

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