NTF chief: Vaccination vs. COVID-19 ‘not a race’

Published December 19, 2020, 7:01 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

Securing vaccines and inoculating the public against the deadly COVID-19 is “not a race” that is needed to be won by the Philippines, National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez, Jr. said Saturday, Dec. 19.

Galvez made the remark as he took a defensive posture against criticisms that the country is already lagging behind to other nations in terms of vaccine procurement. 

“We have to face realities, hindi lang natin tinitignan na mapaaga tayo (we’re not only looking to beat a deadline). It’s not a race. Titignan rin po natin ang safety at efficacy (We should also look into the safety and efficacy [of the vaccine]),” Galvez, who is also the vaccine czar, said in a Laging Handa press briefing.

The flame of criticisms was ignited anew by the recent controversy involving Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

Duque was accused of “dropping the ball” in the negotiations between the government and US vaccine maker, Pfizer, after he reportedly failed to submit a requirement, the confidentiality disclosure agreement (CDA), that would have enabled the delivery of 10 million doses in the country by January 2021. The deal reportedly went to Singapore.

But according to the NTF chief implementer, the Philippines is not a rich country, which can immediately pay a huge sum to manufacturers to secure a vaccine supply. 

He reiterated that 80 percent of the vaccine supply around the world were already secured by rich countries while five percent went to the Covax facility, which handles a global solidarity trial. 

He said the government is trying to get the remaining 15 percent of the vaccine supply while ensuring that the vaccine will be safe and effective.

He admitted, however, that the stringent regulatory requirements imposed by the government is affecting the timeline of the vaccine procurement.

Under the procurement laws, the government needs to wait for the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before it gives the green light for the acquisition of a vaccine. 

As part of the process, the FDA needs to secure the vaccine’s EUA from its originating country to ensure that the vaccine is effective and safe for the use of the general public.

Galvez said that out of 200 vaccine candidates for COVID-19 around the world, only five to seven were given an EUA and allowed to conduct a mass production due to the delay in the release of the results of their evaluations.
The government is currently negotiating with various companies for the supply of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Among them are US’ Pfizer; United Kingdom’s AstraZeneca; China’s Sinovac, Sinopharm, and CanSino; and Russia’s Sputnik V. 
Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez also said that two American companies expressed intent to supply Moderna and Arcturus vaccines to the country.

Despite the delays, Galvez said that the country is still within the timeline of its National Vaccine Roadmap, which aims to inoculate up to 70 million Filipinos within three to five years to eradicate the threat of COVID-19.

He earlier said that the initial supply of the vaccine will likely arrive in the first quarter of 2021 while the bulk will be delivered — “at the best case scenario” — by the second or third quarter next year, or by 2022 “at the worst case.”

Meanwhile, Galvez mentioned President Duterte’s good diplomatic relations with other countries, which contributed to the efforts of the government to secure COVID-19 vaccines.