Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Thursday there was no promise from Pfizer that it will provide the Philippines with 10 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine next month.
In an interview with CNN Philippines, Duque said the US-based pharmaceutical company did not give a “definitive” number of vaccine supply for the Philippines in their previous discussions.
“Walang ganon (There was no promise). It was all indicative numbers there was no definitive supply because…in the production of these vaccines as we are talking…meron daw problema sa kanilang raw materials (they are having problems with regard to their raw materials)…there was nothing binding, nothing in our talks so this was all open-ended,” Duque said when asked if Pfizer ever promised to give the country 10 million doses of its vaccine by January.
Earlier, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he and Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez were able to secure 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine with the help of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo until “somebody dropped the ball.”
While Locsin did not disclose the name of the person he was referring to, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said it was Duque who “dropped the ball.”
Lacson, who had a phone conversation with Romualdez, said the Health Secretary failed to prepare the confidential disclosure agreement (CDA) which was one of the requirements for the procurement of the vaccines.
Duque defended himself from accusations that he did not act quick enough on the matter.
“We go through a process and when you go through a process, you can’t just be hurrying up things just like that. You have to be prudent and cautious, especially because you are talking about a brand new, a novel vaccine,” Duque said.
“Not only is this a novel vaccine, but the technology that it is using, the mRNA platform is also new, never been tried or tested,” he added.
Duque said that is it his overriding principle as a medical professional and a physican to “air on the side of caution.”
The Health Secretary also said that it was only on Aug. 11 when Pfizer sent a draft of the CDA, which was initially meant to be signed by Executive Secretary (ES) Salvador Medialdea representing the Office of the President (OP) on behalf of all the government agencies.
On Sept. 24, Duque said the Department of Health was advised by the OP that it will be the signatory to the CDA instead and requested the agency to hold a cooridnation meeting with Pfizer.
The following day, Sept. 25, Duque said the DoH had an alignment meeting with Pfizer on the matter, since Pfizer initially requested the OP to sign the CDA.
On Oct. 20. Duque said he signed the CDA.
When asked why it took him three weeks to sign the CDA, Duque said: “May mga provisions na di kami nag kakasundo (There were provisions which we did not agree upon).”
“May alteration (There was alteration), the process of going back and forth until when I asked the Deputy Excutive Secreatry Michael Ong on the day I was going to sign it, sabi ko ito yung provision na medyo (I told him about the provision that) I have some discomfort, but he said it’s your judgment call,” Duque said.
“So I put my life in the line for this because I was thinking dapat siguro (maybe) after some time, baka naman itong bakuna na ito (maybe this vaccine) would prove effective…so that was my judgment call,” he added.
As for why the OES deicded to pass on the signing of the CDA to the DoH, Duque said: “The vaccine is health related it is directly aligned to the mandete of the DoH. That reason is well grounded.”
Duque reiterated that government needs to be cautious on procuring vaccines, especially new ones since it already had a “wrong expericence” about vaccines in the past.
“We don’t want a repeat of such already costly lessons we have expiernced in the past with some of the vaccines because this is new. I think the ES was well aware that we had to proceed with caution and really get a lot more independent information with regard to this new vaccine,” he said.
“We cannot just buy the vaccines like we’re buying a box of chocolate,” he said.
While CDA is technically not a contract for purchase, Duque said he has to examine the document with caution to make sure that it will not distract the government.
“I have to be very very cautious about what I am signing, ensuring that the government interest will be first and foremost protected, that there would be no onerous provision. I had to depend on my legal team to give me proper advice,” he said.
Duque said the government’s end goal is to provide the Filipino people with the “safest, most effective, most practicable vaccines.”