Who’s playing God in procurement of vaccines?

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    ONE reads any newspaper, watches any TV news program, access the Internet, and realizes that nothing much has changed in the way Filipinos use media: we disagree on almost any issue.

    This time, it’s the vaccine that divides us.

    Senate minority leader Sen. Franklin Drilon summed up his colleagues’ criticisms of executive department officials who are perceived to be remiss in securing for the Filipino people the much-needed COVID-19 vaccine: “Do you want to play God?”

    The information proffered at the Senate hearing on the vaccine issue last Monday was that no foreign manufacturer of vaccines would like to talk directly to local government units and private entities like the Philippine Red Cross and private corporations for the purchase of vaccines.

    ‘The public shares the senators’ queries on why is it that only the national government is authorized to negotiate with the pharma companies…’

    Carlito Galvez, Eric Domingo, Francisco Duque III, Epimaco Densing, Vince Dizon and their ilk told the senators that there has to be the presence of the national government in these negotiations. This led Sen. Ralph Recto, Senate president pro tempore, to comment that it seems the national government wanted to monopolize the importation of vaccines. “Why not let LGUs and the private sector do their own purchases?”

    Recto in fact followed up on Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s long-held charges that the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines had been entangled in bureaucratic red tape of the first-water variety.

    Lacson asked, “Why is the government making it difficult for the private sector to just do it themselves?” even as he cited a botched deal between a couple of local government units and the UK pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca that he said should have been coursed through the Go Negosyo entrepreneurial group.

    The public shares the senators’ queries on why is it that only the national government is authorized to negotiate with the pharma companies, including Pfizer of the United States, AstraZeneca and China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm. Even rich LGUs such as Makati, Quezon City, Pasig and Manila that wish to buy vaccines on their own for their suffering constituents are compelled to sign a tripartite agreement with the national government and the suppliers.

    Recto sees this procedure as a hindrance that the government is “imposing on ourselves” even as Drilon said such rule will give birth to a monopoly, which is not good for public policy.

    Among the officials in the Palace side, only Densing was able to explain with some sense, but still not enough to appease the senators. Densing said, “Since the vaccine is under emergency use, its safety and efficacy is not established.” This should necessitate strict government intervention.

    Even Dizon’s contention that the FDA “cannot give commercial authority to sell because it has yet to successfully complete Phase 3 trials” was shot down by Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the World Health Organization representative in the Philippines, who said several pharma firms had in fact already completed Phase 3 clinical trials, among them, Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.

    The vaccine has not officially arrived in Philippine soil but already this important government program is beset with problems that need correct analysis and solutions.