THE Philippines is not guaranteed a slot at the head of the supply line even if it should agree to participate in a mass clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Dr. Jaime Montoya, executive director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD).
Appearing at yesterday’s budget hearing of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and its satellite agencies before the House committee on appropriations, Montoya informed lawmakers that, at best, the country will be assured of access to a vaccine once it passes the required tests and is approved for the market.
This is because of the ethical consideration that a vaccine should not be withheld from a country that hosted the clinical trial.
“It would be deemed unethical to deny access to a vaccine for the country that participated in the clinical trials to prove its efficacy and safety. So that’s the extent of the guarantee, it will be available for the country,” Montoya told the House panel.
On the question of who gets in the priority list for the earlier shipments, he said the key will be how the government will negotiate with the pharmaceutical company that developed and will manufacture the vaccine.
A big factor, he noted, is the potential huge demand from wealthier countries who would want to secure the earliest supply for their citizens.
“The question then is when will we get our supply, keeping in mind that during this COVID-19 pandemic all countries of the world are in a race to get the same vaccine,” he pointed out.
It was appropriations committee vice chairman and Muntinlupa City Rep. Ruffy Biazon who raised the question about the advantages for the country of taking part in the clinical trial.
“Would we be able to benefit when it comes to the priority of distribution? Would that be a possible benefit we could negotiate for?” Biazon asked the DOST officials during the hearing beamed online.
Montoya said a local clinical trial would, at the very least, ensure a quick approval from the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) for registration and distribution in the local market since it would have been extensively tested in the local population.
DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña however cautioned that the government should not rush headlong into procurement of the first vaccine that is approved and made available.
“We should not allow ourselves to be limited to one vaccine. If one is OK and the other one is also OK, we have to evaluate the advantages through the procurement process,” he said.
The DOST chief assured that the Philippine Health Research Ethics Board will not cut corners in making certain that universal ethical principles are observed in the pre-clinical and clinical trials to protect the health and safety of those who will take part in the tests.
For 2021 the agency’s budget allocation was set at P23.6 Billion, three billion higher than this year’s P20.274 billion.