PASIG CITY — The Philippines already has a substantial supply of COVID-19 vaccines in its national inventory, making it unnecessary for local government units at this time to purchase additional doses for their constituents.

This was the response of Secretary Carlito G. Galvez, Jr., National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar, to the accusation made by Congressman Rufus Rodriguez that the national government has been “sitting” on the vaccine procurement applications LGUs.

“The country has been receiving an average of 1 million COVID-19 vaccines daily since the start of October. And once we receive them, they are immediately deployed to LGUs and other implementing units throughout the country. There is no time wasted,” Galvez said.

He noted that the country currently has 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in its national warehouses that are ready for distribution, while there are 40 million doses that are due for administration.

“As I have been telling our LGUs over the past several weeks, vaccine supply is no longer a problem for our country. Our main concern at this point is how to get these COVID-19 jabs into the arms of as many Filipinos as quickly as possible,” Galvez said.

According to the vaccine czar, the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines continues to increase, as the country has received a total of 23,353,750 doses this month alone as of October 22, wherein 8,843,065 doses were administered.

Galvez said that out of the 94,678,340 doses that have arrived in the country since February, 58,723,760 were purchased by the national government, 24,330,280 were donations from the COVAX facility, 7,983,160 were purchased by LGUs and the private sector, and 3,641,140 were donated by partner countries.

Protecting the interests of LGUs

He recalled the explanation he made earlier to members of Congress on why the national government had decided to put on hold the multi-party (MPAs) it was supposed to sign with LGUs.

“During the Congressional hearings in September, I informed our honorable legislators that the national government could not push through with these MPAs because we had to be prudent when entering into these kinds of transactions,” Galvez said.

“And upon our review of those proposed agreements, we saw that there were questionable deals among them which would primarily benefit third party consolidators, and would put our LGUs in a highly disadvantageous position,” he added.

Galvez underscored that it is the responsibility of the national government, through the NTF, to protect the interests of LGUs, especially that the money they will be using to procure the vaccines will be sourced from public funds.

“This is what I have been emphasizing to our lawmakers – that it is the duty of the national government to ensure that the LGUs should get the best deal possible and must not be at the losing end,” he said.

The chief implementer explained that the parties involved in MPAs are limited to the NTF, as represented by him (Galvez); the DOH, as represented by Secretary Francisco Duque III; the vaccine manufacturer; the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) holder; and the procuring entity which is either the LGU or the private company.

Galvez said that no consolidator should be involved in an MPA, as the talks should be directly done between the vaccine maker and its authorized country representative in the Philippines, which is the EUA holder.

Course of action

He said that with regards to the MPAs for the purchase of Sinovac vaccines, the NTF has already informed IP Biotech to cease collecting down payments and initiating negotiations for procurement of LGUs and private entities.

“Sinovac has decided that it will only deal with the Government of the Philippines for now,” he Galvez said, adding, “There is already a scheduled meeting with Sinovac to seek updates on whether their aforesaid position on dealing directly with the Philippine government still stands.”

On the other hand, with regards to the MPAs for the procurement of the Indian-made Covaxin, Galvez said the vaccine brand is still subject to the approval of the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC).

“Further, we still have concerns on the transparency regarding the payment terms and pricing of the vaccine. India has also suspended its export of vaccines, which contributes to uncertainty in terms of the delivery schedule,” he added.

Galvez said that the NTF has already referred the activities of IP Biotech, which is the EUA holder of Sinovac, and Ambitech, which is the “consolidator” of Covaxin orders to the Food and Drug Administration for proper investigation.

These are the reasons, he said, why various vaccine manufacturers such as Pfizer, Moderna, and Janssen (J&an are not welcoming MPAs as of this time.

“The vaccine makers have told me they are not interested at this time to sign MPAs. We believe this is largely due to the presence of third-party consolidators which makes the negotiation process more complicated and tedious,” Galvez said.

“As of this time, they (vaccine makers) only want to negotiate directly with the national government. Under this arrangement, they only need to deal with one procuring entity, which makes the process so much easier,” he added.

Furthermore, only AstraZeneca, Sputnik Lights and Moderna might be opened for second wave procurement for calendar year 2022 administration of boosters.

No vaccine shortage

Cagayan de Oro Oscar Moreno, in a public statement, defended Galvez’ position, criticizing Rodriguez for citing his city (CDO) as among the LGUs that are complaining against the NTF’s supposed handling of MPAs.

“Cong. Rufus has never talked to me or anyone in City Hall about the City’s planned vaccine procurement. The city has never lodged any complaint in regard to the above said planned procurement.  Neither has the City even thought of lodging any complaint,” Moreno said in his statement.

“There is simply nothing to complain about. We do not understand how Cong Rufus could even think of dragging Cagayan de Oro in his personal tirades against Sec. Galvez,” the mayor continued.

“We had never encountered any vaccine shortage, and the continuing and regular supply of the vaccines has assured efficient rollout of our vaccination program. We could not ask for more, and the city and our people are eternally grateful to Sec. Galvez and DOH USec. Myrna Cabotaje for the kind help,” he added.

Moreno further said: “It is unfortunate and tragic that Sec. Galvez has become a victim of a legislator desperate of handling the vaccination rollout at the local level through his own group, and trying to bypass the local government, solely for political ends.”

Scaling up vaccine throughput

In the meantime, Galvez, in meeting with LGUs on Friday, renewed his call for them to take advantage of the steady arrival of bigger vaccine shipments in the country and continue to scale up their vaccination throughput.

“Sec. Duque, Sec Ano and Sec Dixon and I reminded our LGUs that they really need to ramp up their respective vaccination rates. Despite the continuous deliveries of vaccines to the cities and provinces, some of them have recorded low inoculation rates that are below their targets,” he said.

Galvez said that while he understands the challenges now being confronted by LGUs, they must also find more creative ways on how to convince more of their constituents to get the jab, and consequently, raise their inoculation rates.

“We told LGUs that instead of allocating their funds to purchase COVID-19 vaccines, they should instead use their money to hire more doctors, nurses, vaccinators, encoders, and procure more covid treatments, oxygen concentrators,medical supplies such as syringes and diluents which if they fall short, could affect their Covid response and vaccination rollout,” he said.

Galvez said hiring more nurses and vaccinators, as this will create a “multiplier effect,” boost their current vaccination output, and help achieve the national government’s target of administering 1.5 million vaccine jabs daily within this quarter.

The task force officials also advised LGUs to invest in better cold storage facilities, especially now that the bulk of the vaccine brands arriving in the country are the more sensitive and sophisticated ones, which require -20 to -80 degrees ultra low freezers.

“Our LGUs need to invest in cold storage facilities such as ultra-low freezers. This will prevent vaccine spoilage and ensure zero wastage so that we can continue to vaccinate as many of our countrymen as possible,” Galvez said.

He also reminded LGUs not to use their local vaccination programs as a “political tool,” saying that doing so will be a huge disservice to their constituents and will merely slow down their vaccine rollout.

“Our local officials — governors, congressmen, mayors, barangay officials – must realize that the fate and future of our country rests in the success of our national vaccination program. It would be best if they can set aside their personal interests and consider the greater good,” Galvez said.

​​“Before issuing such statements, Congressman Rodriguez must carefully consider the issues surrounding these MPAs, as well as the existing realities on the ground. As I have stressed time and again, there is no politics here. We only want to protect the best interests of our LGU,” he added.

As of October 23, a total of 55,168,455 doses of COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered nationwide, of which 29,726,917 have been given as the first doses, while 25,441,538 individuals are now fully vaccinated.

Since October 1, the Philippines has recorded an average daily jab rate of 434,880 doses, in which 32.98% of the country’s target population is now fully vaccinated.

On Friday, October 2, the country recorded a daily jab rate of  more than 724,000 doses, which surpassed the feat it had achieved in August, which brings the country closer to its goal of administering 1 to 1.5 million jabs daily. END