COVID-19

DOH defends timing of Pfizer deal: ‘No such thing as dropping the ball’

Sofia Tomacruz
DOH defends timing of Pfizer deal: ‘No such thing as dropping the ball’

NEGOTIATIONS ONGOING. Health Secretary Francisco Duque lll says 'there is no such thing as dropping the ball' in the government's COVID-19 vaccine deal with Pfizer.

File photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

(UPDATED) Senator Panfilo Lacson refutes the claim, saying Health Secretary Francisco Duque III did not follow through on documents needed after negotiations started in July

The Department of Health (DOH) defended the timing of a deal finalized with Pfizer for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines after allegations were made that the government failed to seize an opportunity to acquire the coveted good for the country sooner. 

In an official statement to media, the DOH asserted that no delays happened as it acted with “urgency” and in accordance with government protocols when negotiating with the pharmaceutical company. 

“There is no such thing as dropping the ball. Negotiations are ongoing. In fact Secretary Galvez signed a CDA (confidentiality data agreement) with Pfizer in November,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a virtual press briefing on Wednesday, December 16.

Duque was responding to accusations made by Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr, who earlier claimed he and Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez received an offer to have doses of the vaccine delivered to the Philippines as early as January 2021. 

Locsin said the deal, which US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also involved in, would’ve seen 10 million doses secured for the country but that it fell through as “somebody dropped the ball.”

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‘No delay’

The DOH denied this, saying that “while the Department wants to expedite the process, there are systems and protocols in place, and we cannot cut corners.”

The agency added that the government signed a CDA the same day it was finalized. 

“From the time the DOH was instructed to sign on behalf of the Philippine government, the DOH legal and technical teams worked closely with Pfizer to finalize the agreement and negotiate on several contentious provisions. After a thorough review process with the concerned agencies, including the Office of the President, the Confidential Disclosure Agreement (CDA) was signed the same day it was finalized,” it said. 

The DOH went on to assure the public that it is making all efforts to ensure the country has access to a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. 

On Wednesday night, however, Senator Panfilo Lacson disputed Duque’s claim, saying the health secretary was informed of a possible delivery of Pfizer’s vaccines as early as July. 

Duque, he added, failed to work on requirements needed for the CDA, even after a follow-up from Pfizer officials. 

“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,” the senator told reporters. 

Lacson said his information came from a phone conversation he had with Romualdez. 

He continued, “The more important question is, how many lives would be saved between January and when (if at all) the vaccines may be made available again to Filipinos.” 

What’s the status of the deal now?

While negotiations are ongoing between Pfizer officials and the government, no details on the specific number of doses to be purchased by the government have been disclosed. 

Galvez earlier said the country was still in talks with the company but declined to give details as it was bound by a confidentiality agreement. In late November, health officials said President Rodrigo Duterte approved the government’s pre-payment for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Countries like the US, United Kingdom, and Canada first used Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine as they mount mass vaccination campaigns against the disease.

Pfizer has also signed deals with a number of governments, including Singapore, Japan, and the European Union, to supply them with doses of its vaccine. 

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Galvez said Pfizer’s vaccine may arrive in the country by the 3rd quarter of 2021 at the earliest, along with the bulk of other vaccines eyed by the Philippines. – Rappler.com

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.