President Duterte’s acquiescence last week to allow local government units (LGUs) to purchase their own vaccines is a tacit admission that the government’s vaccine procurement strategy has failed. This was made clear when Vaccine Czar Carlito Galvez admitted in the recent Senate hearing that up to now the government has not signed a single contract for the purchase of the vaccine from leading vaccine manufacturers.
Thus, the Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque has announced that the President would certify as urgent the passage of Senate Bill 2042 that would allow LGUs to “directly” purchase COVID-19 vaccines. A similar measure has been filed at the House of Representatives.
But even before the approval of the bill, there are some questions raised if it can be done and what repercussions it would create.
First, have the pharmaceutical firms assured the LGUs that they are willing to sign contracts with them individually? As far as we know, giant pharmaceutical firms such as Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and even China’s Sinovac would deal only with governments, principally because they have to know who would pay for the vaccines.
Second, what will happen to poor LGUs, particularly those hit by the recent typhoons in Bicol and Cagayan Valley, which could not buy the vaccine because they have no money? Will they be left behind while the other affluent LGUs can have their share of the vaccine?
A group of professional healthcare workers have, in fact, warned of graver consequences if the bill is passed.
According to the Professional Healthcare Alliance Against COVID-19 (PHAAC), the measure may expose Filipinos to more danger and “make local policy makers liable for wrong decisions.” This is because the bill will bypass the required recommendations of experts from the Health Technology Assessment Council, the PHAAC said.
The group also warned the bill could lead to maldistribution of supply based on an LGU’s capacity to pay rather than the need for the vaccine. To ensure vulnerable sectors and high-risk areas are prioritized, it said that there should be centralized procurement and distribution by the national government.
We hope that our policy-makers will listen to experts such as those in the PHAAC before adopting a new tact on how to defeat the deadly virus.