VACCINES from Pfizer-BioNTech will likely arrive in the Philippines in the next two weeks, an official of the World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday, amid delays in shipment due to the lack of an indemnity agreement.
The country is receiving some 117,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine through the COVAX Facility, a vaccine-sharing initiative co-led by the WHO.
Dr Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO representative to the Philippines, said the country is in the final step in the acquisition process.
The Philippines sent the indemnity agreement to Pfizer on Wednesday.
“We are still waiting for the indemnification agreement from the manufacturers, in this case it’s Pfizer-BioNTech… Upon completion of that, only then they will schedule the shipment.
Last evening, I was made to understand that this may happen within the next two weeks,” he added.
Pfizer-BioNTech, under COVAX, was supposed to deliver 117,000 doses of its vaccine by the middle of February. The shipment was delayed after vaccine manufacturers sought an indemnification agreement from the recipient countries.
The indemnity agreements for both Pfizer and AstraZeneca, which will also send vaccines to the Philippines under COVAX, have been sent by the Philippine government to the drug firms.
The Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines have been included by the WHO in its emergency use listing (EUL).
“The EUL opens the way for the delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccines,” said Abeyasinghe.
AstraZeneca is set to send 5.2 million to 9 million doses to the Philippines.
The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) to AstraZeneca late last month.
President Duterte allowed national government agencies involved in the vaccine procurement program, along with local government units (LGUs), to make advance payments of more than 15 percent of the contract price for vaccines, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. Said.
Under the Government Procurement Reform Act, agencies, including LGUs, are allowed to make advance payments of up to 15 percent of the contract price.
LGUS have been asking the President to issue an executive order that would allow them to use their available funds to make advance payments for emergency vaccine purchases.
LGUs buy vaccines through tripartite agreements with the national government and vaccine manufacturers.
The President also also certified as urgent bills establishing a vaccine indemnity fund.
The indemnity bill seeks to establish a P500-million indemnity fund that can be tapped to provide compensation to people who will suffer adverse side effects after inoculation.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque it was only recently that Pfizer and AstraZeneca asked for indemnity agreements.
Galvez said only Johnson and Johnson originally asked for an indemnity agreement. He reiterated that the case of Sanofi Pasteur, which was sued for deaths linked to its anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, was a factor in he call of drug makers for a no-suit-indemnity agreement.
Galvez also said said realistically, it is still possible that the Pfizer delivery would proceed this month because the government has completed all the requirements.
He said the review of the agreements, however, is taking a while.
Roque said the Philippines is expecting the delivery of vaccines from the private Chinese firm Sinovac, including the 600,000 doses donated by China, to proceed this month but raised concerns because the FDA has not issued an EUA.
Last week, Roque said the Sinovac vaccines will definitely arrive on February 23.
FDA Director General Eric Domingo said Sinovac’s application for an EUA is still under review.
Galvez reiterated that the mass rollout of vaccines is expected in the third quarter of the year.
The government is hoping to vaccinate 50 million to 70 million Filipinos this year and buy at least 148 million doses of vaccine, which is separate from the donations from China and the country’s share from COVAX.
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon asked the national government to explain why the Philippines is lagging behind other Southeast Asian countries in vaccination.
Citing news reports, Drilon said Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar started their vaccination drive last month and this month. The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Thailand have not.
“Many are baffled by our situation. Out of 10 countries in Southeast Asia, six have already started inoculating their citizens,” Drilon said.
Drilon said government should act fast for our vaccine rollout.
“Each day we fail to start the vaccination raises the risk of further spread of the virus and makes our economic recovery longer,” Drilon said. – With Jocelyn Montemayor and Raymond Africa