Lacson: It’s Duque who dropped the ball in vaccine deal

    1928

    BY RAYMOND AFRICA and GERARD NAVAL

    SEN. Panfilo Lacson said it was Health Secretary Francisco Duque III who “dropped the ball” in the COVID-19 vaccine deal with drug firm US Pfizer Inc. as he failed to submit a required document.

    Senator Ping Lacson (Photograb from Senate Press Conference stream)

    The deal would have brought the country some 10 million doses of vaccines against the coronavirus disease by next month. Because of the alleged mishandling of supply negotiations, Singapore got the vaccines instead.

    “They could have secured the delivery of 10 million Pfizer vaccines as early as January next year, way ahead of Singapore but for the indifference of Secretary Duque who failed to work on the necessary documentary requirement namely, the confidentiality disclosure agreement (CDA) as he should have done,” Lacson said.

    Duque, in a TV interview yesterday, said he was just being “cautious” and “prudent.”

    “There is no such thing as I didn’t act quick enough. The thing is, you go through a process. When you go through a process, you can’t just be hurrying up just like that. You have to be prudent and cautious because you are talking of a novel vaccine. Technology is also new. It has never been tried and tested,” said Duque.

    Lacson, in a message to media on Wednesday night, said his information was based on a phone conversation with Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez earlier that day.

    Lacson said negotiations between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., as arranged by Romualdez, started as early as July.

    He said Duque failed to work on the confidentiality disclosure agreement (CDA), a documentary requirement needed to secure the vaccines, and failed to submit the requirement despite follow-ups made by Pfizer’s country representative, and an assurance from Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez that funding for the vaccines would be made available.

    In a statement issued Wednesday, Duque said the Department of Health acted with urgency and in accordance with government protocols, adding a deal was signed last month.

    Lacson said: “Secretary Duque’s reaction that negotiation with Pfizer is still ongoing after he branded as false Secretary Locsin’s statement that ‘somebody dropped the ball’ is true, but such negotiation, according to Ambassador Romualdez, is a renewed initiative after they missed the bus the first time.”

    Duque’s Wednesday statement was issued a day after Locsin said in a Tweet on Tuesday that “somebody dropped the ball” on the government’s plan to secure the Pfizer vaccines, the world’s first approved and fully tested administered to a person.

    Lacson, on Wednesday morning, said it was a Cabinet secretary who erred but did not name him.

    Duque, in the TV interview, said he has long signed the CDA despite earlier confusion on who should sign it on behalf of the government. He said Pfizer had requested Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to sign the deal but Medialdea asked him instead to sign for government.

    “Pfizer initially requested for the Executive Secretary to sign the CDA on behalf of the government, while the DOH has been instructed to sign for the government. But I cannot sign for the government. I can only sign for the DOH,” said Duque.

    Duque also said Pfizer did not set any deadline for the talks. “Nothing in all our documents showed that there was a deadline,” he said

    He also said the talks never tackled a definite vaccine supply deal as it was more of an exploratory discussion.

    “There was nothing binding in our talks. It was all open ended, exploratory, really meant to just get the data, know more about the safety profile of the vaccine, its efficacy, and results of their clinical trials. It was all indicative numbers, no definitive supply,” recalled Duque.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said if Duque indeed erred, “no damage was done” because the country was still able to get a commitment from Pfizer for the delivery of vaccines in the second or third quarter of 2021.

    He said it was “impossible” for the country to get the vaccines by January because the richer countries have paid for and made reservations early with Pfizer.

    Vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. on Wednesday night said negotiations with Pfizer and other firms are continuing and if it pushes through, would result in the delivery in tranches of 60 million vaccines to the country.

    He said aside from Pfizer, the government is also negotiating with AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Sinopharm, Gamaleya and Sinovac. – With Jocelyn Montemayor