Sen. Zubiri urges caution in purchasing COVID-19 vaccines

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri on Wednesday urged the government to be cautious in its planned purchase of COVID-19 vaccines from abroad.


Zubiri said the Philippines should get the coronavirus vaccines from "reputable sources" to avoid the repeat of the Dengvaxia controversy.

"We have to make sure our FDA (Food and Drug Administration) officials will make certain that the vaccines na bibilhin po natin at ipapamigay po natin sa ating mga kababayan ay mga matitinong bakuna hindi tulad ng nangyari sa Dengvaxia (that the vaccines we will purchase and distribute to our people are safe and will not end up like Dengvaxia)," he said in an online interview with reporters.

"We don't want to have another Dengvaxia scandal on our hands," he added.

Several officials from the Department of Health (DOH), its attached agencies, and French drug manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur were charged over the government's dengue immunization program for schoolchildren in 2016. 

Dengvaxia, the anti-dengue vaccine used in the program, was criticized for putting at risk individuals who have not yet had dengue and were immunized. Hundreds of children's deaths were also blamed on the vaccine.

"Kailangan mag-ingat po tayo (We should be careful).Let' s continue with the testing, let's follow science, let's follow the reports given by the WHO (World Health Organization) about the efficacy of these vaccines bago tayo (before we) mag-hook, line and sinker, magpaturok po tayo ng bakuna (get injected with the COVID-19 vaccine). Hindi po natin alam baka mapasama pa sa atin (We might not know that these could put us in more danger)," Zubiri said.

"We want to make sure vaccines that we get are very good, 'yong talagang high level of resistance ang nabibigay niya (that it will give a really high level of resistance)," said the senator, who is also a COVID-19 survivor. 

President Duterte had recently accepted an offer from Russia to supply potential coronavirus vaccines to the Philippines. He also volunteered to take the first shot of the vaccine reportedly called "Sputnik V".

Some scientists, however, were skeptical about Russia’s claim that its vaccine is ready for use, citing the need for more trials to determine if it is safe and effective.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the government "must act on the basis or our national interest" regarding its purchase of COVID-19 vaccine.

"We are being asked to participate in the testing. I would rely on the judgment of our health authorities to hand this request. What is important is we must have access to this vaccine once it is tested and accepted in the market. It is essential for the health of our people," Drilon said in a separate virtual briefing.

Zubiri said that in including funds for the purchase of vaccines under the proposed Bayanihan 2 law, he said he will propose a provision that would mandate the government to buy vaccines not only from one country, but should be sourced out from different countries.