Early last week, Senator Panfilo Lacson disclosed to the public that arrangements had been made by Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez with American government officials for the purchase by the Philippines of 10 million dosages of a Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer, a multinational American pharmaceutical corporation.
Locsin said the vaccine purchase was to be financed by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, and delivery was expected by January 2021.
According to Lacson, the deal did not materialize because Health Secretary Francisco Duque III took his time signing a confidentiality disclosure agreement, which Pfizer required from the Philippine government.
Locsin, in turn, said somebody in the Cabinet “dropped the ball” on the deal, so to speak.
In a television interview aired last Saturday evening, Duque denied the accusations against him. Duque said that he only wanted to make sure that the acquisition deal was above board because public safety was involved. He also said that negotiations for the purchase were still taking place, contrary to what Lacson said.
Duque’s account is supported by Carlito Galvez Jr., the national implementer of the government’s anti-Covid-19 program and “vaccine czar” of the country. Galvez confirmed that negotiations for the purchase of the Pfizer vaccine remain ongoing.
There is a news report that the Pfizer vaccines meant for the Philippines were ultimately purchased by Singapore.
So, there are two versions of what happened.
The supposed “delay” in the purchase of the Pfizer vaccine can actually be a blessing in disguise for everyone in the Philippines. Why rush in deciding things when the surrounding circumstances strongly suggest that the Philippines should wait and see, even just in the meantime?
First is the issue of storage facilities for the vaccines.
The Pfizer vaccines apparently need very special cold storage facilities to remain viable and effective. Duque disclosed in the interview that the Philippines may not have the state-of-the-art cold storage facilities and equipment for that purpose. Therefore, unless we have those special cold storage facilities ready by January 2021, the Pfizer vaccines may become useless. That’s plenty of money down the drain.
There being no available cold storage facilities in town for the Pfizer vaccines, the prudent thing to do is to put up those facilities before the vaccines are purchased. So, why the rush to buy the Pfizer vaccines?
Then there is the concern about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines available in the market.
From what has been disseminated by the international news media, all known anti-Covid-19 vaccines so far available may still have some unknown but potentially dangerous side effects, which should be a cause for concern.
Individuals who have been inoculated have experienced varying side effects ranging from fever to nausea. Studies on the vaccines’ effects on pregnant women and young children are inconclusive.
Ten million dosages of something that remains largely experimental may turn out to be a risky and costly misadventure.
What the Philippines can do in the meantime is to monitor developments in countries that have used the available vaccines on their people, and to find out which vaccines have the least objectionable side effects.
There is also the economic factor to consider.
Another American-made Covid-19 vaccine called Moderna is in the market, and costs a lot less than the Pfizer vaccine. Once Moderna and all other similar vaccines become international competitors, market economics will pull down the very expensive price tags on this important commodity.
Since the grand plan is to have all Filipinos vaccinated against Covid-19, choosing among several brands with equivalent safety and potency indications but with prices differing immensely should not be difficult. Mass but safe and effective inoculation at the least possible price tag is it.
There is an advantage in not being among the first in line.
All told, maybe it’s not yet the right time for the Philippines to join the seller’s market for the anti-Covid-19 vaccine. Let us wait until it becomes a buyer’s market, which will be soon enough. Thereafter, everything will fall in its proper place.