Various issues delay delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 18) — The delivery of the Philippines' initial COVID-19 vaccine doses has been delayed due to different issues faced by manufacturers, officials said Thursday.

During a virtual briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the 600,000 doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine from China are still subject to the issuance of emergency use authorization.

“I have received information that unless the EUA is delivered today, baka pati po yung delivery sa (February) 23rd ay maantala [perhaps even the expected delivery on February 23rd might be delayed],” Roque said, noting that the Chinese vaccine maker still has to make arrangements for the doses’ shipment.

No vaccine will be entering Philippines without any authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. stressed.

While Western drugmakers Pfizer and AstraZeneca have already secured EUAs in the past months, they still face delays in rollouts, he added.

The government has already handed the required indemnification agreement to both manufacturers, but Galvez said officials were caught off-guard when Pfizer at the last minute asked for a bilateral agreement on their indemnification clause.

Para po sa kaalaman ng lahat, nung unang negotiation po namin, hindi po yan hinihingi ng Pfizer, just only now. Kaya medyo nabigla kami,” he said, noting that American firm Johnson & Johnson was the only entity that earlier sought a strict indemnification clause.

[Translation: For everyone’s knowledge, during our initial negotiations, Pfizer wasn’t asking for it, only now. That’s why we were quite caught offguard.]

Galvez explained there are two sets of indemnification agreements for the Philippines: a general one with the World Health Organization-led COVAX facility, which is set to roll out doses for member countries; and specific indemnification clauses with Pfizer and AstraZeneca. For AstraZeneca, this was already part of its tripartite agreement with the country, he added.

He said the lawyers of Pfizer are different from those of the COVAX facility, and they rarely communicate with each other, adding to the delay.

For Astrazeneca, the vaccine czar says the complication lies in global manufacturing.

Yung nakausap natin, itong manufacturing nito, Thailand. Yung sa COVAX na magpp-produce sa atin is South Korea. Yun ang medyo may complications, kasi iba yung AstraZeneca South Korea na nagh-handle, iba rin itong andito sa Thailand,” he explained.

[Translation: The party we’re talking to directly has its manufacturing in Thailand. The production for COVAX (facility) intended for us is in South Korea. These present slight complications, because different entities are handling AstraZeneca in South Korea and Thailand.]

In a separate briefing, WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said AstraZeneca has vaccine supplies, although they are not earmarked for the Philippines. But he said the country may be able to access some of the doses provided it meets the requirements both of COVAX and AstraZeneca in South Korea.

“What is important is the Philippines yesterday submitted the indemnification agreement, import license, and EUA [for] AstraZeneca,” said Abeyasinghe.

The government hopes to inoculate priority sectors by the first quarter of 2021, with a full public rollout slated beginning third quarter. Around 50 to 70 million Filipinos are eyed to get vaccinated by year-end.