MANILA, Philippines — A member of the Senate minority bloc on Monday pointed to the 2018 Dengvaxia controversy and the national government's mishandling of contract negotiations as among the reasons behind the delays in the rollout of the administration's national coronavirus vaccination program.
This comes days after vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr disclosed at a press briefing that the government had signed Indemnification Agreements with drugmakers Pfizer and AstraZeneca under the World Health Organization-led COVAX facility.
Once signed, an indemnification agreement "holds a business or company harmless" in case of unexpected adverse events.
Speaking in an interview aired over ANC, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon lamented the Public Attorney's Office's handling of the controversy, saying also that it added a burden on health workers who were made defendants in cases filed across the country.
"To me, the indemnification requirement is borne out by the events that transpired in the Dengvaxia controversy. Why, suddenly, did the manufacturers require an indemnity clause? Because of their experience on the way the Dengvaxia controversy was handled against Sanofi," the senator said.
"It should be looked at in the context of the way PAO Chief Persida Acosta handled the Dengvaxia controversy," he added.
Galvez himself at the same press briefing last week admitted that drugmakers were likely concerned with the country's previous experiences with the Dengvaxia vaccine.
A 2018 study of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine noted that the country’s “highly politicized response” to the reported risks posed by Dengvaxia has eroded overall public trust in immunization.
Drilon said that given the unfortunate experience of health workers in the Dengvaxia case, it is only proper to include a provision in Senate Bill No. 2057 or the Expediting the Procurement and Administration that Congress is expected to pass this week that will shield volunteers, like health workers, who are authorized to carry out the COVID-19 vaccination program from suits and liabilities, except arising from willful misconduct.
However, the Senate minority leader was careful to point out that the indemnity issue is not the only reason for the delay, pointing to mismanagement in the country's COVID-19 vaccination strategy.
"To me, this is not the only reason. I think just like the way COVID-19 pandemic was handled, there is mismanagement in handling the supply agreements," he said.
"Even the president asked, where are the vaccines? This is already a sign of exasperation," he added.
The senator pointed out in his statement that six out of the ten countries in the Southeast Asia region are already inoculating their citizens with coronavirus vaccines.
Earlier on Friday, February 12, healthcare advocacy group Coalition for People's Right to Health also pointed out what it said was a misprioritized vaccine rollout that overlooked and underprioritized disadvantaged sociodemographic groups.
As early as then, the group had already questioned the lack of established indemnification in the administration's dealings.
"Apart from the creation of an investigating body, deemed the [National Adverse Events Following Immunization Committee], there must be a system that indemnifies or compensates potential individuals for injury, incurred medical expenses, and also lost income. Thus, we must go beyond insurance schemes (like PhilHealth), learn from the Dengvaxia fiasco, and establish a firm commitment to the people's health and vaccine confidence amid the potential risks," it said.
But Galvez, a former military general, asserted at his press briefing that the indemnification snag would not affect the vaccine deal with Pfizer, saying it would still push through.
According to the health department's latest case bulletin issued Sunday afternoon, exactly 561,169 coronavirus cases have been recorded in the country since the virus first emerged in December 2019.
It has been 342 days since community quarantines were first imposed. The Philippines is still under the world's longest quarantine. — Franco Luna