The Philippine government, unfazed by the bribery scandal hounding China’s Sinovac, insisted Thursday that the firm’s COVID-19 vaccines will be among the first shots to be used in the country’s immunization program.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque assured the public that the country’s screening panel safeguards the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines that will roll out in the Philippines amid reports that Sinovac had previously bribed Beijing’s drug regulators to approve its vaccines for SARS and swine flu.
A December 4 report by the Washington Post, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper, revealed that Sinovac had acknowledged the bribery case involving its CEO.
Despite this, Roque said Sinovac’s vaccine candidate remains the country’s first choice in its immunization program against COVID-19.
“The target remains that Sinovac will be the first that we can use to vaccinate our people and it will be in the first quarter of next year,” Roque said.
“We are consistent that we will only allow vaccine use after we confirm that it is safe and effective against COVID-19,” he added.
Roque, meanwhile, said President Rodrigo Duterte is confident that Food and Drug Administration director general Eric Domingo will ensure bribery schemes won’t exist in vaccine purchase.
“The President has full trust in Dr. Domingo. When it comes to allegations on bribery, I don’t think that will happen to the Philippines,” he said.
Duterte has repeatedly expressed his preference for COVID-19 vaccines being developed by China and Russia — nations which he has allied within his four years in office, even saying that “crazy” pharmaceutical companies in the Western countries are just interested in profit.
In his speech earlier this week, he said there will be no irregularities in the purchase of vaccines as he vouched anew for the honesty and integrity of his Cabinet members.
Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be administered in the country in the first half of 2021, along with Russia’s “Sputnik V” manufactured by the Gamaleya Research Institute. Soon after, the Philippines might get a hold of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca between the second and third quarter of 2021.
The Post, which reviewed public records and court testimonies on Sinovac’s bribery cases, said the company’s rise in China’s vaccine sector took place with the “help of priority projects from Beijing and kickbacks to officials who assisted in regulatory reviews and sales deals.”
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier said local vaccine experts are “aware” of the report and will validate the veracity of the allegations against the Chinese drug maker.
Sinovac is currently seeking the approval of the FDA to conduct Phase 3 clinical trials in the country after passing the initial evaluation of the vaccine experts panel. It has started delivering vaccines to Indonesia.