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THE MANGAHAS INTERVIEWS

Duque on COVID-19 vaccines: If I erred, it's on the side of caution


If he was ever at fault earlier this year, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said it was to "err on the side of caution" as regards the COVID-19 vaccine that was then still being developed by Pfizer.

Addressing the issue of "who dropped the ball" in the procurement of 10 million doses of Pfizer vaccine, Duque said he wanted to know more about the vaccine but the absence of a confidentiality disclosure agreement (CDA) kept Pfizer from disclosing its data.

"We were trying to familiarize with the product of Pfizer but they could not disclose as much without a CDA," Duque said.

"Ako bilang doktor ay binibigyan diin ko yung kaligtasan ung mga bakuna dahil ibibigay mo ito sa andami-daming tao," he added.

"This is most ambitious, biggest single immunization activity that the DOH will undertake. I have to be very careful and have to learn from the lessons in the past," Duque said.

"I just want to make sure that I would be very prudent, careful. Kung meron man akong konting pagkukulang it will be to err on the side of caution," he added.

Confidentiality Disclosure Agreement

Duque also defended himself anew from accusations that he cost the country’s early access to the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer.

He said the required CDA with Pfizer was originally intended to be signed by the Office of the President (OP) and not the Department of Health.

“Ang hinihingi ng Pfizer na lagda ang OP through the Executive Secretary. Hindi ako kasama. ‘Yon ‘yong una nilang gusto for the whole government. Isa na lang daw CDA ang mangyayari kasi ngayon bawat ahensya magsisipag-CDA sa Pfizer. Mayroon namang saysay, kabuluhan ‘yong gusto ng Pfizer na isa na lang for the whole government,” he said.

He said the DOH cannot sign the CDA on behalf of the whole government which was why the Department of Science and Technology and vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. had signed the CDA separately.

“Siyempre may proseso po ito na hindi rin basta-basta sigurong tatanggapin ng Pfizer kung ano ‘yong gusto kong mangyari at ganoon din tayo so sa bandang huli, kumain ng oras ito dahil kinuha rin natin ang kumento ng DOST at ng Office of the Executive Secretary,” he added.

Duque earlier said he received the revised CDA from the Office of Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea on September 14. On September 24, Duque said he was told by Medialdea that he is the one to sign the CDA.

Duque said he signed the document on October 20.

“Si ES Medialdea ang sabi niya hindi na kasi bakuna ito so nasa puder ng DOH ‘yan so DOH na lang ang pipirma,” he said.

“Governance ‘yan eh. Eh siyempre nakikipagusap ka hindi naman government to government. This is a private company so kinakailangan maging maingat tayo,” he added.

Moreover, amid criticism, he said there is no such thing as dropping the ball in the process of getting the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer as negotiations with the company are still underway.

Earlier, Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel "Babe" Romualdez said as early as July, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were already talking to include the Philippines on the list of early buyers of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.

Romualdez said Pfizer informed the Philippine Embassy in Washington that it is now ready to accept orders and that the CDA is required to put the Philippines in line of interested countries.

Romualdez said he does not want to judge how officials in Manila assessed and checked the approval of the CDA with Pfizer but said there was a “sense of urgency” needed at that time to sign the document but it was unfortunately not met.

Downpayment

Romualdez said Pfizer did not ask for any down payment before accepting or committing its vaccine as he dismissed speculations that it may have caused the delay and eventual failure to acquire the COVID-19 vaccine by January next year.

Romualdez said Pfizer was only asking for the CDA.

Meanwhile, in a tweet on Friday, Locsin also said Pfizer never demanded a downpayment.

“Anyone says the delay was caused by Pfizer requiring that it be held free and harmless for any harm caused by its vaccine. All vaccine makers demand the same free and harmless clause. I mean f*cking all. Also Pfizer never demanded downpayment. Come up with better b.s. Next,” Locsin said.

However, Duque said the downpayment was previously discussed by Pfizer which was prohibited by the Procurement Reform Act.

“Sa mga usapin noon, ‘yong advance, ‘yong preorder, ‘yong kailangan magbayad, magka-cash advance ka ay hindi naman, wala at that time, I think bago mag-November ang batas na sinabi sa akin ng legal ko ay hindi ito pinapahintulutan sa Procurement Reform Act,” Duque said.

“Ito pong last week of November ay akin pong nabalitaan from DOF na puwede naman pala mag-advance payment with the condition that the president will approve it,” he added.

He also clarified that the down payment was not part of the CDA but if ever the deal would push through, the Philippines need to pay in advance.-Ma. Angelica Garcia/NB/LDF, GMA News

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