By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor
After Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin, Jr. told the Senate that a high ranking Heath official “dropped the ball” causing the Philippines to lose out on the early purchase of 10 million doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine last week, an angry public demanded to know the identity of that official.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said it was actually Health Sec. Francisco Duque III — whose slow action in ordering the vaccine resulted in the cancellation of the order — who was to blame.
Locsin said he and Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel ‘Babe’ Romualdez had been jointly working on convincing Pfizer to set aside 10 million vials for the country, which the multinational drug company had initially agreed to.
But in failing to submit a confidentiality agreement, Duque caused the country to miss out on the vaccine from Pfizer, which allotted the shipment to Singapore instead.
Lacson said Romualdez had given him permission to share the details of the failed deal with the public.
Fears had been raised by developing countries that the richest countries of the world would hog all the available anti-Covid-19 vaccines. The poor nations would be forced to the back of the long queue, exposing them to more infections and deaths while waiting for their turn to purchase the vaccines.
Duque, however, denied the allegation by saying that negotiations with Pfizer were still ongoing.
In the meantime, China had promised to prioritize the Philippines when stocks of its own coronavirus vaccine became available. The Philippines is finalizing negotiations to purchase an initial 25 million doses of the vaccine from Sinovac Biotech, which expects to deliver the stock by March, next year.
During a media forum, the Health secretary was asked to comment on the Foreign secretary’s claim.
Prior to Lacson’s revealing the identity of the Health official who dropped the ball, Locsin had further stated that the 10 million doses of the vaccine had been approved with the help of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The cost would be financed by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank and would be shipped to the Philippines via FedEx.
However, “somebody committed a mistake which apparently affected the shipping of Pfizer vaccines to the country,” said Locsin.
To this, Duque replied, “There is no such thing as dropping of the ball.”
Duque said he was told last September 24 that the Office of the Executive Secretary and the Department of Science and Technology would no longer sign the confidentiality agreement but would pass on the responsibility to the office of the Health secretary.
He said he reviewed the confidentiality agreement before signing it to insure that its provisions would not be disadvantageous to the government.
When the exchange between Locsin and Duque became public, President Duterte said the Health secretary should explain his role in the botched deal.
The President, however, later cleared Duque by saying he saw nothing wrong in the actions of the Health secretary.
President Duterte earlier said he wants most if not all the vaccines for the entire population of 108 million Filipinos to come from either China or Russia.
Meanwhile, other countries have already procured the various vaccines, including Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine that needs to be stored in ultra-cold temperatures.
The UK was among the countries with patients being administered first doses of the vaccine to global fanfare.
The first patient to receive the vaccine was an elderly woman, and the shot was administered by a Filipino nurse.
The second patient was an elderly man with the quaint name of William Shakespeare.
The US followed the mass distribution of vaccines a couple of days later.