Delays, delays, and more delays


FAIR COMMENT | Alito L. Malinao

The Philippines is being left behind among countries in the region in rolling out anti-COVID-19 vaccines, something that is difficult to understand.

It is unacceptable, for example, why Cambodia and Bangladesh, two of the region’s poorest countries, have now embark on their inoculation program ahead of the Philippines which is the fastest-growing country in Asia after China and Vietnam.

Now the only thing certain in our country is the uncertainty of when we can get the vaccines.

Carlito Galvez, who was designated by President Duterte to oversee the government’s vaccination program, has apologized for the delay saying he has no control over some factors in the procurement of the shots.

“Wealthy countries are cornering supplies. We see the geopolitics of vaccination,” Galvez said.

If what Galvez is saying is true, why is it that Cambodia and Bangladesh were able to procure their vaccines?

Galvez also earlier said that the country is expected to receive an initial delivery of 117,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from COVAX this month. But during the recent Senate inquiry Galvez said that the delivery of the vaccine would be delayed because of the lack of indemnity agreement between the government and Pfizer.

But one declaration from Galvez that raised eyebrows is that up to now the government has not signed a single contract with any manufacturer of COVID vaccines.

So, what happened during the past few months when Galvez has assured that the vaccines would be made available to the Philippines soon? On the Pfizer vaccine from COVAX, why didn’t the government sign the indemnification agreement before announcing the vaccine delivery that prompted simulation exercises in hospitals designed to receive the vaccines?

The COVAX facility is a vaccine sharing initiative co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Now there is another hurdle. Rahindra Abeyasinghe, the representative of WHO in the Philippines, there is still a need for the government to sign an indemnification agreement to come from the manufacturer, Pfizer-BioNTech.

The indemnification agreement would absolve manufacturer of liability in case of adverse effects of vaccines which have been authorized only for emergency use.

Take a leave, General

Galvez, a former chief of staff of the AFP, should not have just apologized but asked the President to relieve him as vaccine czar since it is evident that he cannot deliver.

Mr. Duterte should then make full use of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) by appointing a senior diplomat as envoy plenipotentiary with full powers to negotiate with international drug manufacturers. Put him in charge of the procurement aspect while Galvez will handle the inoculation program along with the Department of Health.

We can do this. As they say, better late than never.

Or the President can personally call his “best friend’ China President Xi Jinping for China to provide us with enough doses of Sinovac or Sinopharm vaccines. And not just for the donation of 600,000 doses of Sinovac which is intended for the members of the Presidential Security Group and their families.

There had been no widespread reports of negative side effects of the China-made vaccines contrary to those of Western-made vaccines and they have similar efficacy After all, President Widodo of Indonesia and President Endrogan of Turkey have been vaccinated with Sinovac and so far, nothing happened to them.

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