Advance payment for COVID-19 vaccines


    SEN. Imee Marcos, who as provincial governor of Ilocos Norte had to struggle to follow the rules and regulations of the Commission on Audit (COA), is unpleasantly surprised to hear that government offices such as the Department of Health (DOH) may now pay in advance for purchases of vaccines that are still being developed.

    During a Senate budget hearing, the senator said she is concerned about a DOH statement that advance payment for the purchase COVID-19 vaccines is required. The health department is looking at 40 million doses of the vaccines for 20 percent of the country’s more than 100 million population.

    DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that they have set aside P2.4 billion for this vaccine purchase, and the amount could still be augmented once the cost of the vaccines is released by manufacturers.

    On the same occasion, Marcos wanted to know from the Department of Budget and Management and the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) whether an advance payment does not violate the law. The GPPB representative at the hearing assured her that advance payment is allowed by COA rules.

    ‘Duterte emphasized that he will rather buy vaccines from Russia and China because they “extended a helping hand to the Philippines during the pandemic.”’

    Because of this, Marcos urged her colleagues to pass a bill that would amend the current Procurement Law to avoid confusion at the DBM, DOH, local government units and other agencies.

    It is just opportune that on Monday night, in his usual nocturnal meetings and announcements, President Duterte blurted out, “You must be crazy.” He was referring to pharmaceutical firms abroad which are demanding advance payments from countries and institutions wanting to fall in line to buy their COVID-19 vaccines. Duterte, however, did not identify these companies.

    President Duterte affirmed that he will not spend a single peso to pay a “reservation fee” to pharmaceutical companies that have yet to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, saying it is against the country’s procurement laws.

    Duterte claimed there are pharmaceutical firms that want buyers to finance their vaccine research and development efforts, even if they are in the advanced stages of their clinical trials. He said these companies must be “crazy” if they think the Philippines will just pay for something that is not certain.

    “The procurement law of the Philippines, this country, does not allow you to buy something which is non-existent or to-be-produced as yet. It’s a very exacting law and you must always reckon with, you know, prosecution and going to jail,” the President said.

    Duterte emphasized that he will rather buy vaccines from Russia and China because they “extended a helping hand to the Philippines during the pandemic.” “If the vaccine of Russia and China are equally good and effective, just like any other vaccine invented by any country, I will buy first,” he said.

    “One good thing about China is you do not have to beg, you do not have to plead,” he said.

    For sure, the matter of purchasing a new product such as COVID-19 vaccine will pose unique problems because it involves a big amount of money and we cannot discount the issue of efficacy and safety. We can only hope the government will balance everything to come up with the right decisions.