Local government units (LGUs) are now allowed to make advance payments to pharmaceutical companies to buy COVID-19 vaccines, Malacañang said Thursday.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said President Duterte signed the memorandum order allowing LGUs to make advance payments of up to 50 percent of the value for the purchase of the vaccines.
Duterte has also certified as urgent the proposed law mandating an indemnification fund for people who might experience the possible adverse effects of the COVID vaccines.
Such a fund is a requirement of the COVAX Facility and the lack of an indemnification law has already delayed one shipment of vaccines from Pfizer.
On Thursday, World Health Organization representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said the delivery of the 117,000 vaccine doses under the COVAX Facility will happen “in two weeks” or in the first week of March.
The WHO official said while the Philippines has submitted its proposed indemnification agreement, Pfizer-BioNTech has yet to submit its counter-proposal.
“Once they both sign, it is only upon the completion of that process that the delivery of the shipment will be scheduled,” he added.
The government aimed to start its mass vaccination drive this month.
Front-line health workers will be the first in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine shots, based on the government’s immunization plan.
Duterte's memorandum released yesterday also authorizes the National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19 and the Department of Health to make advance payments exceeding 15 percent of the total contract amount for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said the grant of authority to LGUs will be effective until the state of calamity due to COVID-19 is lifted.
The memorandum sets limits to LGU purchases, however. LGUs may make advance payments as long as they are authorized by the NTF chief implementor, subject to criteria and limits that may be established.
“In the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, government agencies and LGUs concerned shall ensure that any arrangements to be entered into shall be in the best interests of the government and the public,” the MO read.
“All advance payments to be made pursuant to this order shall be subject to procurement law, auditing rules and regulations, and other pertinent issuances,” it added.
Meanwhile, Malacanang said the delivery of 600,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Chinese firm Sinovac may be delayed due to the absence of an emergency use authorization (EUA).
Roque said if the EUA is not issued soon, the delivery of 600,000 may not arrive on Feb. 23 as expected.
An EUA, issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is needed to legally administer a vaccine in the Philippines.
“We need to get the EUA for the vaccines to be delivered,” Roque said.
Roque, however, said that the 5.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca under the COVAX Facility are expected to be delivered to the country within February.
The Philippine FDA has only issued EUAs to two COVID-19 vaccine brands so far: Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca, which have been found to be 70 percent to 95 percent effective, respectively, in preventing COVID-19.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, for his part, said the Senate could approve the indemnity law on second and third and final reading on Monday.
Certifying a bill as urgent allows Congress to approve a bill on second and third reading on the same day.
In the House, Quirino Rep. Juni Cua, chairman of the committee on banks and financial intermediaries, said the President is expected to sign into law this month a bill that would expedite the procurement and administration of COVID-19 vaccines.
The bill drafted by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, aims to provide exemptions to LGUs from some restrictions set down in the Government Procurement Reform Act.
The amended version of the bill states that a tripartite agreement among local government units, the national government and pharmaceutical companies is still needed for vaccine purchases.
Velasco had earlier sought to give LGUs the power to directly procure vaccines from manufacturers.
But Cua said a tripartite deal was "unavoidable" because this would ensure an orderly procurement of vaccines.
Despite the late delivery of vaccines amid a global shortage, Galvez on Thursday said the government’s vaccination program is still on track and that it is still possible to push the vaccine rollout this month.
He said delays of COVID-19 vaccination rollouts are being experienced not only by the Philippines but other countries worldwide.
Galvez also said the country is well-prepared for the vaccine deployment and other needed logistical requirements.
He also noted that the government's series of vaccine rollout simulations is not limited to the arrival of “The various simulations that we are conducting both in the national and local levels, cover all the different types of COVID-19 vaccines," he said in Filipino.
In other developments:
* Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon lamented how the Philippines is lagging behind several countries in its COVID-19 vaccination plans, noting that six out of 10 countries in Southeast Asia have already begun their vaccination programs while the Philippines is still scrambling to secure supplies. “Many are baffled by our situation,” he said. Among the countries that have started rolling out the jabs are Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar, leaving the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Thailand behind. “Why is it that until now, we still don’t have the vaccines?” Drilon asked.
* The Russian Embassy in the Philippines vouched for the safety and efficacy of its Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 as it vowed full cooperation with the Philippine government on its application for emergency use authorization. Mr. Vladlen Epifanov, minister-counsellor and deputy chief of mission of the Russian Federation Embassy made the statement during a hearing of the House committee on people’s participation chaired by Rep. Florida Robes of San Jose Del Monte City, Bulacan. “The results of the clinical trial phase 3 conducted last year showed its very high safety and efficacy rate which has been recognized by the very respectable British Lancet medical journal,” Epifanov said. “As far as its efficacy, it goes up to 91.6 percent and volunteers of 60 (years of age) and up is a little bit higher (at) 91.8 percent. Ninety-eight percent of those vaccinated developed good immune responses.”
* Foreign Affairs Secretary Teosoro Locsin Jr. on Thursday said he prefers being inoculated by the Russian-made Sputnik V coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine. “I’m turning [over] every stone to get Sputnik V in,” Locsin said in a Twitter post. “It is the one I will trust my life to,” the country’s top diplomat added, pointing to the Lancet paper on the Russian vaccine.