Lacson says Duque ‘dropped the ball’ in Pfizer vaccine purchase

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 16) — Senator Panfilo Lacson said that it was Health Secretary Francisco Duque III who bungled the deal to buy 10 million doses of vaccine from American drug maker Pfizer.

Lacson said the government would have secured the delivery of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine if not for Duque’s “indifference,” after he “failed to work on the necessary documentary requirement.”

“The country representative of Pfizer was even following up on the submission of such documentary requirement,” said Lacson in a statement.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Tuesday tweeted that he and Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel "Babe" Romualdez were able to secure millions of vaccine doses to arrive in the country by January 2021, but plans were foiled because "someone dropped the ball." Romualdez said the vaccine arrival will most likely be delayed by a few months because other nations were able to finalize deals earlier than the Philippines.

"Only pushed back to later date of delivery possibly June next year because we did (not) act quick enough on the CDA (Confidential Disclosure Agreement). Other countries got ahead of us like Singapore," Romualdez said in a text message to CNN Philippines.

Duque, however, refuted Locsin's claim.

"There is no such thing as 'dropping of the ball.' The negotiations are ongoing," Duque said in a virtual media briefing.

Lacson, who talked to Locsin and Romualdez during a hearing of the Commission on Appointments, earlier hinted that a Cabinet official placed the vaccine deal in danger. He said this official made the Philippines miss the opportunity of receiving vaccines as early as January.

He added that the "captain ball" always messes up but stays in power because the "coach refuses to replace him."

“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,” said Lacson in a statement.

“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,” he added.

 Lacson has repeatedly called for the firing of Duque over alleged lapses on the country's COVID-19 response, but President Rodrigo Duterte has always vouched for the secretary.

Related: Lacson to Duterte: What ‘amulet, magic potion’ does Duque have for staying in office?

Moreover, Duque insisted that he has completed his office's role in finalizing the confidentiality disclosure agreement for vaccine purchase. He said his office was advised on September 24 to review the deal and that he signed it on October 20. The health chief said he meticulously reviewed the papers — even seeking help from legal experts — for possible onerous provisions in the agreement.

"I wanted to make sure na hindi onerous o disadvantageous to government iyong mga provisions," he said. "On Oct 20, on the day that this was given to me, submitted to me, I signed it already. So there is no such thing as somebody dropping the ball. It is really an ongoing (negotiation)."

[Translation: I wanted to make sure the provisions are not onerous or disadvantageous to the government.]

Meanwhile, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. also vouched for the health secretary, echoing the latter’s statement that negotiations are underway.

“There is no bungled deal, because ongoing po ang negotiation,” Galvez told CNN Philippines on Thursday, adding that there was only a delay at most in the process.

Galvez also said the claim that the Philippines could have immediately secured 10 million doses is “impossible,” as Pfizer has only recently been granted emergency use authorization. He further noted that the richest countries have already bought some 80 percent of the Pfizer vaccine.

“Wala po 'yung sinasabi nilang dropping the ball," he said. "Hindi po nangyari ito kasi nasalo po natin eh. Dahil kasi po ang nakita po natin ay talagang nag-iingat po tayo sa mga pinipirmahan po natin.”

[Translation: There was no such thing as dropping the ball. This did not happen, and in fact, we caught the ball. We are being careful in the documents we are signing.]

To date, only the vaccine produced by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech has secured emergency use authorization abroad, including from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Singapore.

The Duterte administration is still banking on Chinese-manufactured vaccine Sinovac to be the first vaccine to reach the Philippines. Roque on Tuesday said Sinovac is the only brand that can provide supply at the earliest time possible, which is in March or April 2021. The government is looking to secure up to 25 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine, even if the Chinese drug maker has not yet disclosed results of its phase 3 clinical trials to prove it is safe and effective.

The country has so far formally secured 2.6 million doses of vaccine from British drug maker AstraZeneca, which are expected to arrive in the second quarter of 2021.The deal was closed through a ₱600-million donation from over 30 private companies. The company has also agreed to provide another batch of vaccines, officials said.