MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on March 8 said  Vice-president Leni Robredo  is “creating uncertainty and doubt” about China’s COVID-19 vaccine over his Talk to the People weekly radio briefing.

Duterte also reacted to Robredo’s comment that he is “pikon”  when he dared Robredo to “bring a basket and shop for vaccines.”

Ma’am, hindi ako mapikon kasi hindi ko sarili ito. Ang akin, medyo galit ako for coming with a half-truth, na basahin mo, kalahati lang, ‘yung recommendatory power lang. Hindi na kinuha dahil hindi na nga kailangan kasi donated ‘yun eh. At saka binigyan ng authority ng FDA,” he said.

“Imbes na makatulong si Vice-president, she muddled up everything, thereby I said creating uncertainty and doubt in the minds of the people,” Duterte added.

Duterte added that Robredo should just help the government in promoting vaccine confidence among the people instead of questioning their safety.

“Imbes na magtulong tuloy  to convince the people, here she comes and making it appear that government has failed in its mandate of securing (a recommendation),” he said.

“‘Yan ang ginalitan ko because we are running against time,” he added.

Duterte’s outburst, according to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, was triggered by Robredo’s backing of the call of healthcare workers for a review of Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine by the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC).

According to the Department of Health (DOH) website, the HTAC is an independent advisory body created by the Universal Health Care Act and is mandated “to undertake technology appraisals by determining their clinical and economic values in the Philippine healthcare system, with the aim to improve overall health outcomes and ensure fairness, equity, and sustainability of coverage for all Filipino citizens.”

Roque noted that the HTAC review is only “recommendatory.”

In her weekly radio show in DZXL, Robredo urged the government to wait for HTAC’s recommendation on Sinovac before allowing its use. HTAC previously issued recommendations for Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca.

“If we look at the recent events, it seems that it’s not the same treatment.,” she said.

“It’s difficult to have this situation because we have always had a communication problem. One agency says it is allowed while the other says it is not,” she added.

In another report by The Philippine Star on February 27, doctors from the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) where the Philippines began its inoculation drive among healthcare workers pushed for the HTAC to look into Sinovac further for “individual informed decision-making.”

The Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 also supported the call, citing local regulators initially advised against the use of Chinese-made vaccines on frontline medical personnel.

At the March 8 briefing, DOH Sec. Francisco Duque III said Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine did not require a nod from HTAC as it was a donation and not an investment.

“Hindi ho kailangan ng recommendation, kasi nakalagay dito (sa Universal Health Care Law) investment, wala naman tayong in-invest, donated ‘yun eh. So, EUA (emergency use authorization) lang po ang kinailangan,” said Duque.

Previously, National Immunization Technical Advisory Group member Dr. Nina Castillo-Carandang, whose group confirmed Sinovac vaccines’ recommended for use by healthcare workers, said an HTAC assessment was no longer required as the 600,000 doses were donations from China.

Robredo, on the other hand, clarified that she only wants Sinovac vaccines to follow the same process as other jabs and adds that she is not saying the China-made vaccines are harmful.

“I don’t buy that argument that because these were donated, they don’t need a positive recommendation from HTAC,” she said.

“Whether or not that was donated, we need to protect our fellow Filipinos,” she added.