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Galvez eyes Pfizer vaccine delivery to PH by 2nd quarter of 2021

Philippine vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr said Filipinos can expect doses of Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine to arrive in the Philippines by the 2nd quarter of 2021, after paperwork on indemnity agreements delayed the delivery of doses.

The vaccine supply expected in the 2nd quarter, or April at the earliest, will come from the COVAX Facility led by the World Health Organization, Galvez said. Doses which may be purchased directly from Pfizer could arrive in the latter half of 2021 at the earliest, he added.

Galvez's new timeline is a far cry from initial schedules. Filipinos had expected 117,000 doses of Pfizer's shot by mid-February, supposed to be the first vaccine delivered to the country.

The lack of an indemnification law, as well as disagreements over the scope of indemnity for Pfizer, stalled the country's access to the vaccine.

"What we see is that maybe we can get Pfizer in the 2nd quarter from COVAX, but not the procurement.... The procurement, they said initially, is [for the] 3rd quarter and 4th quarter because they do not have supplies," Galvez said in Filipino during a press briefing marking the start of the country's rollout of its COVID-19 vaccination program on Monday, March 1. 

With Pfizer's vaccine in high demand across the world, Galvez said Filipinos "should not expect" delivery to take place immediately.

"We see that practically all countries are getting Pfizer, Moderna, and also AstraZeneca," he said.

Up to Pfizer

Galvez said that with the enactment of the Philippines' COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021, the country now has "conditional immunity" that would provide legal cover for vaccine firms as shots remain under emergency use authorization.

"Nasa kanila ang bola (The ball is in their court)," he said.

Galvez added, "Sinasabi natin sa Pfizer na sila ay (We told Pfizer that they are) fully immune [to] any litigation because the government will take care of the indemnification of those people who will have those adverse effects."

Unlike other vaccine companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Galvez said, Pfizer did not state during negotiations that it needed a law on indemnification to be passed before the country gains access to its vaccine.

The retired general added that Pfizer asked for the removal of certain provisions in an agreement, which the government could not agree to "considering that it's our protection" if there would be "gross negligence."

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte's position on the matter was that the recently passed indemnification law covered the scope of what vaccine firms had requested from the government. 

"We're very proud of that law but we cannot give any more [concessions] because we've given everything the pharmaceuticals wanted," Duterte's spokesman said in a mix of English and Filipino.

The Duterte government, added Roque, has "done the best that we could" to accommodate vaccine firms' requests.

Galvez, meanwhile, said that even if the Philippines' indemnity law were inadequate for direct procurement, the country would still be able to get Pfizer doses. An indemnity agreement crafted by COVAX and a "side letter" could be signed to assure delivery of Pfizer's vaccine. 

"Pfizer…has promised their commitment for COVAX that they will deliver the promised doses they have – the 117,000 doses," he said. – Rappler.com

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.

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