MAJORITY and minority senators yesterday fired back at President Duterte who accused them of favoring the vaccine developed by the US manufacturer Pfizer Inc. for COVID-19 over other brands.
The senators have been asking why government seems to be favoring the vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech Ltd, a private Chinese firm, which has a low efficacy rate and which is reportedly expensive.
Government officials have also been refusing to disclose the purchase price for Sinovac’s vaccine, CoronaVax.
The Philippines is negotiating with other vaccine makers like the UK’s AstraZeneca which like Pfizer has been given emergency use authorization in other countries; Moderna of the US; Gamaleya of Russia; and Sinopharm (China National Pharmaceutical Group Corp.) which is a Chinese state-owned enterprise.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the President was fed the wrong information because the senators are just after “correctly priced” vaccines.
Sotto also “thanked” Duterte for offering to buy Pfizer vaccines for senators .
“Tell him thanks, but no thanks! I wonder what gave him the idea that the senators favor Pfizer? I asked Sen. (Christopher) Bong Go yesterday (Monday) after he made a pitch, if the President is informed of what’s transpiring in our hearings. He said yes, but apparently not!” Sotto said in a message to reporters.
“I knew he was being given the wrong information. We do not favor any vaccine,” he added.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who earlier said there could have been an attempt to overprice the Sinovac vaccine, said he has not heard any of his colleagues saying they prefer Pfizer over any other brand. He stressed they are not politicizing the government’s vaccination program.
“What we are doing in the Senate is an exercise of our oversight over the appropriations laws that we passed, particularly on the purchase of vaccines,” he said.
Duterte, in an address on Monday night, said the deal with Sinovac is covered by a confidentiality agreement, thus the purchase price cannot be made public.
“Gusto ninyong Pfizer, kayong mga senador, in Norway, 25 persons died after receiving Pfizer vaccination. Gusto ninyo? Mag-order kami para sa inyo (You senators, you want Pfizer? In Norway, 25 persons died after receiving Pfizer vaccination. You want it? We will order for you),” Duterte said.
He said China made-vaccines are as good as the Western-made drugs.
The Food and Drug Administration last week granted Pfizer an emergency use authorization (EUA). AstraZeneca’s application is still being evaluated by the FDA. Sinovac applied for EUA last week.
The FDA has approved the conduct of clinical trials for Sinovac, Chinese firm Clover Biopharmaceuticals, and Belgium’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals.
Sotto said “we will convene with our committee hearing whatever.” The next and third Senate Committee of the Whole hearing will be on Friday.
“I don’t think the public will favor the idea of government not disclosing their actions (on the) road map of the vaccination program,” he said.
In an interview with ANC, Lacson said had the government officials been forthright and honest about the negotiations with Sinovac, there would have been no speculation or suspicion.
He also said it was only recently that vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. declared an “indicative price” of P700 for the Sinovac vaccines. “If at the outset during our first hearing last Jan. 11, he already declared we can get Sinovac vaccines for P700 thereabouts, then that’s the end of the story… So the controversy is their own doing. It’s not the Senate’s, it’s not the senators’. We’re performing our job, oversight,” he said.
Sen. Joel Villanueva said the Executive branch should take the senators’ questioning positively as they just want to help Malacañang in the vaccination program.
“We are helping them. We should not be treated as rivals. If we correct the wrong that we see, it is the Filipino who will benefit,” he said n Filipino.
FDA Director General Eric Domingo said Sinovac’s application trial was approved on January 15.
“All applications for clinical trials have been approved by the FDA already. These are Janssen Vaccines & Prevention, Clover Biopharmaceuticals, and Sinovac,” said Domingo. – With Jocelyn Montemayor and Gerard Naval