‘Wala bang Sense of Urgency?’ Senate Hearing on COVID Vaccination

At the first hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole on the government’s vaccination efforts, Sen. Lacson detailed how incompetence and lack of urgency slowed down the government’s efforts to procure COVID vaccines.

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Snag in Negotiations?

Citing information relayed to him, Sen. Lacson said negotiations between the national government and AstraZeneca hit a snag in November or December 2020, allegedly because the government wanted to change the terms in the agreement, from $5 per dose to $250.

Initially, he said the LGUs wanted to course their procurement through GoNegosyo, which was authorized by the IATF to deal with AstraZeneca. But due to the failure of negotiations, Sec. Galvez took the initiative to “allow” the LGUs unofficially to deal with AstraZeneca themselves, instead of coursing it through the private sector.

Sen. Lacson noted DOF Secretary Carlos Dominguez III’s computation indicated the P73.2-billion budget for vaccines is good for 60 million people, or $5 per dose. “My question is, why is government making it difficult for the private sector to just do it themselves?” he asked.

‘Incompetence is Infectious’

Sen. Lacson asked what is taking the national government too long to act, citing at least two instances. The first instance involved the DOH taking 118 days or 4 months to reply to Pfizer’s June 24 letter that provided an overview of its candidate vaccine. “How long did it take us to just sign the CDA? 118 days or 4 months. Now if 25-26 deaths per day and 1,300 infections per day hindi urgent, I don’t know what is, kung ganyan kabagal ang kilos natin just to sign a CDA, 118 days.”

The second instance involved China National Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. (Sinopharm), which sent a letter to Sec. Duque last May 12, expressing interest in having collaborative clinical trials with PH for its subject vaccine. “Alam mo gaano katagal bago sumagot ang DOH? 10 days… So it took us 10 days just to reply.”

He also cited a recent dinner with the Chinese ambassador, where he was overheard saying Philippine officials “keep flirting with us (on the vaccines), but we need their commitment and they don’t want to commit.” “That’s where we are. That’s our problem. Sa ease of doing business lang bagsak na, sa CDA pa lang 4 months or 118 days just to sign the CDA.”

Sen. Lacson also said that while the DOH secretary presented a seemingly good vaccination plan on paper, the difference was in the implementation. “Nag-usap kami ni SP, kung makinig kami sa briefing materials walang problema, para tayong nasa langit. But it’s in the implementation. Ang reaction, ang responses to emergencies.

“I repeat, 25-26 Filipinos per day namamatay since January 2020. 1,300 ang na-infect daily. Hindi ba emergency yan? Wala bang sense of urgency?

Sen. Lacson also said that while Sec. Galvez is doing his best to fast-track everything, it may not be good to hang around with incompetent people in the long run. “Ang incompetence like the coronavirus is infectious. Nakakahawa yan. If you hang around with incompetent people in the long run mahahawa ka.

‘Special Treatment’ for Sinovac?

Sen. Lacson questioned why the government concluded a contract with Sinovac to deliver 25M doses, even if it has not applied for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). “They have not applied, yet you concluded a contract with Sinovac to deliver 25M doses. How is that?

He added, “Ang daming nag-apply at saka forthcoming ang kanilang EUA. Why did you not give priority to those brands na may EUA or at least may application? Why would you give preference to a brand that has not even applied for EUA?” Sec. Galvez said they had told Sinovac to apply for EUA.

Also, Sec. Galvez they have to make sure that they will have the EUA before Feb. 20, “or else the delivery will be delayed until EUA will be approved.”

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