This is in response to the column of Mr. Tony Lopez titled “Hang in There” that was published, both online and in print, in your paper last 9 December 2020. We would like to respond to the points raised by Mr. Lopez, and set the record straight on how the government is carrying out the procurement and acquisition of COVID-19 vaccines for the Filipino people.
First of all, we would like to emphasize that the vaccines are still in its development stage and inevitable delays are expected. Vaccine manufacturing, similar to any kind of food or drug that is mass produced, requires a huge volume of raw materials and corresponding regulatory approval. These, among other variables, need to be carefully considered by the government. We must also keep in mind that the majority of candidate vaccines being developed by pharmaceutical companies worldwide will have or will complete their regulatory approval by the first quarter of 2021. Only then can they commence with mass production.
We want to inform Mr. Lopez that the government will not bypass regulatory processes, sacrifice safety, and put our people in danger because of criticisms that our timeline for procurement is delayed.
The Duterte Administration is utilizing all mechanisms to ensure that we shall be able to achieve our goal of acquiring at least 50 million doses of vaccines by mid-2021 and inoculate 25 to 30 million Filipinos based on our priority list for free. Another 30-40 million or more Filipinos will be inoculated by 2022 as drug companies start to scale up vaccine production by then. To ensure that our entire population will be covered, our immunization program will be implemented within a three to five-year period.
As much as we want to fast track our vaccine procurement and start our immunization program as early as now, we have to face the reality that there is a shortfall of supply until 2021 and only Pfizer passed the Stringent Regulatory Approval in the UK and Canada. As we all know, developed nations and highly-industrialized countries such as the US and UK, which make up only 15 percent of the world’s population were able to pre-order and pre-book almost 80 percent of the global supply. The Philippines, as well as other developing countries, on the other hand, are only fighting for the remaining 18 percent of global supply. First world countries are racing to pre-purchase more than their needed supply through bilateral and multilateral deals.
This is the reason why the President made continuous appeal to the international community and manufacturers, through the United Nations and ASEAN assemblies, to provide poor and developing nations with equitable access to the vaccines. The same sentiment was expressed by the WHO and other international organization against “vaccine nationalism.” They project that nearly 70 poor countries will only be able to inoculate one in ten people against COVID-19. It was a clarion call for the Philippines and other underdeveloped nations who do not possess the same financial resources of more powerful countries to be more aggressive in their vaccine procurement efforts.
Lastly, we recognize how the enforcement of community quarantine protocols has impacted on our country’s economy. This situation, however, is not unique to the Philippines as all nations are reeling from adverse effects of the pandemic. As much as the government wants to maintain our country’s position as one of the fastest growing economies in Asia, we need to prioritize the health and safety of our countrymen. We are optimistic that our economy will bounce back in the coming year, as we roll out our vaccination program.
Despite the many challenges we continue to face, we are proud to report to the Filipino people that we are on track in the implementation of our vaccine roadmap, as we target to start our inoculation program as early as the first quarter of 2021.
We hope this letter will put into proper perspective the concerns raised by Mr. Lopez. Should he want to be clarified on other issues, we will be glad to provide him the details. As a well-respected journalist, we encourage him to engage with us and help provide clarity to the national discourse on vaccine procurement and
acquisition at this critical period. We would also like to thank your
highly-esteemed paper for giving us the space to air our side of the issues.
ATTY. WILBEN M. MAYOR
Chief of Staff
Office of the Secretary, OPAPP
Head, Sub Task Group on Current Operations
NTF Task Group on Strategic Communications