Philippines to sign deal securing 40 million Pfizer doses

The Philippines will sign a deal that will secure 40 million doses of Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for the country, after months of discussions on indemnity issues prolonged negotiations for access to the shots.

The signing of the term sheet with Pfizer will take place on Friday, May 14, Philippine vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr announced in a recorded message aired at the launch of the private sector’s vaccination efforts in partnership with the government on Friday afternoon.

The signing of the term sheet with Pfizer is the last to be inked with seven vaccine developers comprising the Philippine government’s vaccine portfolio.

“I would like to announce in this launching that as of this date, I have already signed...the term sheet for our procurement from Pfizer for 40 million [doses] and they approved the head of terms. Their global head has signed, and with [Health] Secretary [Francisco] Duque [III], we will sign it today,” Galvez said in a mix of Filipino and English. 

Once finalized, the Pfizer deal will become the Philippine government's largest COVID-19 vaccine procurement, so far. It is expected to be funded by loans from international financial institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

This is followed by purchase deals with the Serum Institute of India for 30 million Novavax vaccine doses, 25 million Sinovac doses, 20 million Moderna and Gamaleya doses, 17 million AstraZeneca doses, and up to 10 million Johnson and Johnson (J&J) vaccine doses. 

Galvez said five of seven contracts were already completed as of May 12. Contracts with Pfizer and J&J are expected to be finalized soon.

Like most vaccines eyed for government purchase, Pfizer’s vaccine has secured emergency use approval in the Philippines. 

What next?

The term sheet to be signed by Galvez and Duque with Pfizer is the second to the last step in vaccine negotiations and is necessary for locking in logistics needed for production and delivery. 

While the deals assure Filipinos access to limited global supply, a final supply agreement will still need to be signed with these companies to facilitate the actual purchase and payment, as well as set a definite date for delivery.

The signing of a term sheet with Pfizer marks a significant step in securing access to the vaccine after negotiations for the shots had been mired by delays in paperwork since 2020. 

In December 2020, Duque was accused of “dropping the ball” on a deal that could have secured Filipinos' access to the Pfizer vaccine as early as January. A Rappler analysis on the timeline of key dates in the government’s discussion with Pfizer, as disclosed by Duque, showed how a mix of bureaucratic red tape and the uncertainty of a new vaccine hampered the process of signing a confidentiality data agreement that is needed to jumpstart a purchase deal. 

Later in February 2021, about 117,000 doses of Pfizer's shot were expected to arrive in the country through the COVAX global facility but this was stalled by the lack of an indemnification law in the country, as well as disagreements over the scope of indemnity for Pfizer.

The Philippines finally received an initial 193,050 vaccines on May 10 from the COVAX facility led by the World Health Organization. 

More doses expected in May

On Friday, Galvez said the Philippines can also expect additional doses of Pfizer’s vaccine to be delivered through COVAX in May. From the 1.1 million shots scheduled for the month, Galvez said up to 2.2 million doses are scheduled to arrive in May.

Galvez said this became possible after COVAX advanced the delivery of 1.1 million doses that were supposed to arrive in June. 

Due to its strict temperature requirements, Pfizer’s vaccine will be distributed to Metro Manila, Cebu City, and Davao City which have the required facilities to store the vaccine at the required -80 to -60 degrees Celsius temperature.

Phase 3 trial data reported in late 2020 showed Pfizer’s vaccine demonstrated an efficacy of 95% against symptomatic COVID-19 seven days after the second dose was completed. A recent study in the United Kingdom, meanwhile, emphasized the importance of getting the second dose of the vaccine, citing the remaining risks from virus variants after the first dose.  

Apart from Pfizer’s vaccine, the Philippine expects to receive more shipments from Sinovac, Gamaleya Research Institute, and COVAX also in May. 

Since the Philippines launched its vaccine drive on March 1, around 1.86% of the country's population have received the first of two doses of the vaccine. Those who have taken both jabs represent around 0.47% of the population as of May 11.

– 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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