VACCINE czar Carlito Galvez Jr. yesterday said the Philippines is looking at procuring other vaccines being developed by China, despite a reported side effect being linked to a Chinese vaccine undergoing clinical trial in Peru.
Galvez, in a virtual briefing, said apart from the vaccine from Sinovac Biotech, the Philippines is negotiating with Sinopharm and CanSinoBio for additional vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
On Sinovac, Galvez said the country aims to finalize negotiations this week to acquire 25 million doses for delivery by March.
He said of the three China-based firms, Sinovac is in the advanced stage and has completed clinical trials in several parts of the world.
Galvez said his team is just waiting for the vaccine experts panel to approve the signing of an agreement with Sinovac to ensure the rollout of vaccines in the country by the first quarter of 2021.
Government officials met with Sinovac representatives on Friday and there would be another meeting this week to finalize a deal, Galvez said.
“We have already conveyed to them our needs, 25 million for 2021,” he said.
Sinovac’s plan to conduct Phase 3 clinical trial in the Philippines is being evaluated by the country’s drugs agency. Trials are taking place in Indonesia and Brazil.
Galvez said Sinovac is also the most affordable of the three vaccines from China. He said apart from affordability, the government is looking at acquiring the most accessible, safest, and most effective vaccine.
He said the country’s priority is Sinovac’s vaccine is three times cheaper that Sinopharm’s, and it can produce 20 million to25 million doses for the Philippines if negotiations go well.
Ambassador to China, Chito Sta. Romana said Sinopharm finished Phase 3 clinical trials in different countries ahead of Sinovac which has pending applications to undertake Phase 3 clinical trials in the Philippines or had just started trials like in Brazil, Peru, Turkey, and Indonesia.
He said Sinopharm is “no longer in a position” to hold a Phase 3 clinical trial in the Philippines, but vowed to submit all data needed to satisfy the Philippines’ requirements.
The Peruvian government had suspended the clinical trial of Sinopharm in their country after one of the volunteers had an “adverse event” after taking the vaccine.
Sta. Romana said the volunteer has a problem with the movement of an arm after taking the vaccine and authorities are determining if it is vaccine related or due to the other illness.
“It doesn’t mean it’s been canceled. It may be a temporary suspension. So we have to view it seriously and we have to look at what happened, and then we’ll see what their evaluation is,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.
He added that this is not the first time that alleged side effects occurred after an initial use of a vaccine candidate happened, recalling an incident in the United Kingdom and Brazil.
Sta. Romana also defended other Chinese-made vaccines, saying nearly a million Chinese, including soldiers, have taken the vaccine and no adverse effect has been reported so far.
Galvez also said some of the volunteers in China are actually Filipinos.
Galvez reiterated the procurement of vaccines would be funded mostly by loans, acknowledging the concerns of Vice President Leni Robredo and Sen. Franklin Drilon about the vaccine budget.
He said agreements with the pharmaceutical firms should be signed before the year ends to ensure that the country would have access to vaccines by next year.
This means it would need money this year and could not wait for the 2021 budget. About P2.5 billion of the P72.5-billion vaccine fund is included in the 2021 budget.
“Hindi po natin puwede pong magamit iyong 2021 budget kasi kailangan po ngayon pong December at saka January magsara po iyong ating advance market commitment. Kung 2021 po iyong gagamitin na budget na inilaan po na P72 billion, we will be on the tailing end of the supply chain (We cannot use the 2021 budget because we need this, this December and we might end up closing the advance market commitment if we wait for January. If we use the 2021 budget, for the 72-billion, we will be on the tailing end of the supply chain),” he said.
Sta. Romana allayed concerns that China might use the vaccine supply to pressure the Philippines into concessions in connection with the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea dispute.
He said he is aware of the concerns of some sectors but said the Chinese commitment to supply vaccines has no conditions.
“In reality, I think the Chinese have offered this, you know, it’s part of their campaign to improve China’s standing in the world and to win the hearts and minds of people… So the point of this vaccine diplomacy is, on the one hand, their pledge to make it a global public good, to make it available particularly to their close friends, countries that are friendly to them, neighboring countries. But whether they’ll make it as a condition in geopolitics, that has not come up in any discussion,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.
Sta. Romana added that the territorial dispute is a separate issue and whatever differences the Philippines and China may have are discussed separately.
“There has been no attempt by the Chinese to link the two together. What is happening is, they may be trying to do this to increase their standing in the public, to win the hearts and minds of the public that they are a friendly country, that they mean well and that they want to be seen as a benign regional power and not as an aggressive or maligned power,” he added.
President Duterte, since taking office in 2016, has set aside a territorial spat in the South China Sea in exchange for billions of dollars of pledged Chinese aid, loans and investment.
But mistrust of China, including of its vaccines, remains widespread in the Philippines, according to a opinion survey conducted in July.
The Senate approved to constitute itself into a Committee of the Whole to conduct an inquiry on how the national government will implement its national COVID-19 vaccination program.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said hearings will start this week.
The approval came after Sen. Francis Pangilinan filed Resolution 594 calling for an inquiry “with the end view of determining the measures necessary to fully prepare for its nationwide implementation.”
Pangilinan said the government must have clear plans on how to implement the vaccination program.
“As of December 10, 2020, two vaccines have been approved in a number of countries – Pfizer and BioNTech’s BNT162b2, which, according to scientists and researchers, has an efficacy rate of 95 percent, and Sinopharm’s BBIBP-CorV developed by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products, which was given full approval by the United Arab Emirates on 09 December 2020, announcing its has an efficacy rate of 86 percent,” Pangilinan said, adding that 58 other vaccines are undergoing clinical trial on humans. – With Raymond Africa