COVID vaccine makers, fearing Dengvaxia mess, want indemnity pacts

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    VACCINE czar Carlito Galvez Jr. yesterday said all pharmaceutical firms involved in the production of vaccines for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are requiring indemnity agreements from the Philippines be cause of the controversy arising from the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.

    Galvez, during the “Laging Handa” public briefing, said vaccine manufacturers are worried because of what happened to the Dengvaxia maker, French firm Sanofi Pasteur, from the vaccination program in 2016 to its stoppage in 2017 and the lawsuits that followed.

    The Philippines has been talking with pharmaceutical firms and countries, including the United states, United Kingdom, China, Russia, India, for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.

    Galvez said the pharmaceutical firms want a guarantee of immunity from suit and for the government to shoulder the indemnification of patients who will show negative effects from the vaccine.

    “Iyon po ang hinihingi ng mga manufacturer kasi nakita po natin napakalaki ng takot ng mga manufacturers sa Dengvaxia, na nakita na iyong Sanofi po hinabla po (That is what the manufacturers are asking because the manufacturers fear as they saw Sanofi was sued),” he said.

    He added that all the contracts with the manufacturers and drug makers include non-disclosure and indemnity agreements.

    Sanofi Pasteur, after it belatedly announced the vaccine could lead to more severe symptoms for people who had not been infected with dengue, was blamed by some parents for the death of their children who received the vaccine.

    Galvez said in the case of Dengvaxia, the agreement had no provision about obtaining “informed consent” and there was also no indemnification law to protect the manufacturers.

    A law establishing a P500-million indemnity fund has been filed and is expected to be certified as urgent by President Duterte.

    Galvez said the proposed indemnity law protects vaccine manufacturers and health personnel from lawsuits and those who would suffer from severe side effects from COVID-19 vaccination through an indemnity from the national government.

    The World Health Organization-led COVAX Facility last week informed the Philippine government of the need for an indemnity agreement for each of the manufacturing firms that are providing vaccines under the initiative.

    Pfizer-BioNTech, under COVAX, was supposed to deliver 117,000 doses of vaccine this month but is waiting for the indemnity agreement. AstraZeneca, also under the COVAX, is supposed to send 5.2 million doses to 9 million doses in the first to second quarter of the year.

    Galvez said the indemnity agreements for both Pfizer and AstraZeneca have been sent by the government to the drug firms.

    “From what we see, our agreement with Pfizer will most likely push through,” he said when asked what would happen if the US-based drugmaker did not sign or agree with the indemnity agreement.

    The Department of Health is eyeing at least 50,000 vaccinators for the nationwide vaccination program.

    “Based on the number of eligible individuals from each sector, we are looking at the need for roughly 50,000 vaccinators for the vaccine deployment program for the priority population,” said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.

    Recruitment and training are ongoing, she said.

    “Since December, we have already trained about 4,000 people. They are now the ones conducting the training for vaccinators on the ground, in different parts of the country,” she said.

    Each vaccination team, she said, will be composed of “about six individuals, including the vaccinator, ones that will monitor side effects, counselors, registration, and all” and will target to inoculate 100 individuals a day.

    “Based on our time and motion study, we can be able to vaccinate 100 individuals per day,” she said.

    The national government is expected to begin the COVID-19 vaccination program soon, with the expected arrival of the first batch of vaccines this month.

    As for vaccine recipients, the DOH said nearly 200,000 healthcare workers have been included in a aster list, together with about 1.4 million senior citizens, 3 million indigents, and 164,000 uniformed personnel.

    Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go on Tuesday said said media members should be considered in the priority list as “are also like frontliners who risk their safety on the field just to keep Filipinos informed on the country’s COVID-19 situation.”

    Go, former special aide to President Duterte, also said he is willing to be vaccinated in public, along with the President, to boost people’s confidence in vaccines.

    Go said Duterte is just waiting for the clearance as to what type of vaccine will be used on him.

    The Bureau of Customs is warning the public against locally manufactured fake vaccines which it said “may have severe health consequences to users as the composition of such vaccines are not tested and even worst fake vaccines may not be effective thus further exposing users to the dangers of COVID-19.”

    Early in the year, the bureau released an advisory as a result of an article published by the International Police, which said syndicates and other underground groups have engaged in the manufacture and distribution of fake vaccines.

    The Philippine Red Cross warned the public against individuals online offering saliva testing.

    “There are some unscrupulous business people, who are selling allegedly saliva tests,” said PRC chairman Sen. Richard Gordon.

    He said the scammers make it appear that their product is an upgrade of the test offered by the PRC.

    “They add a fancy name: antigen,” he said.

    The Department of Health approved PRC’s application for the use of saliva testing to detect COVID-19 cases in all its laboratories. However, the DOH has said that a positive evaluation of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine on saliva testing is needed before it is allowed for use in other COVID-19 laboratories.

    Yesterday, the PRC signed a memorandum of agreement with Robinsons Land Corporation for the opening of saliva collection sites in 15 of its malls nationwide.

    Gordon said the drive-through collection sites in the malls are capable of accommodating three people in every 10 minutes. – With Gerard Naval, Angela Lorraine Celis and Raymond Africa