Duque: Pfizer deal does not secure 10 million doses for PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 18) — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Friday dismissed allegations he caused the delay in the vaccine deal with US drugmaker Pfizer, adding the papers that took him 17 days to sign does not specifically assure 10 million doses for the Philippines by January.

He belied the specifications for supply and shipment mentioned by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., who brokered the deal with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Philippine Ambassador to the US Babe Romualdez. Locsin said the 10 million doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine were supposed to arrive in Clark, Pampanga in January 2021, but someone bungled the deal. Senator Panfilo Lacson identified Duque as the suspect.

Duque said there have been meetings between Philippine officials and Pfizer executives where it was mentioned that US President Donald Trump asked the firm to allot supplies for the Philippines, but the health chief noted that discussions did not include the specific details bared by Locsin.

"I completely, unequivocally deny that. Unang-una, ang 10 million dose na iyan, wala naman akong alam. Wala silang pinadalang sulat na may ganoong commitment ang Pfizer. There was no document. As Secretary of Health, the right thing to do was send me a communication that the Pfizer is securing 10 million doses for the country," he told CNN Philippines.

Duque said the confidentiality disclosure agreement or CDA that reached his table was for Pfizer to share vaccine development data to the Philippines so talks on supply and shipment can begin.

"It's not a key to securing any quota or amount of vaccine from Pfizer," he stressed.

Bureaucratic red tape?

It took Duque 17 working days before he signed the CDA, a requirement for the two parties to begin advanced talks on vaccine procurement.

Pfizer submitted the draft agreement to the Philippines on August 11, which was meant to be signed by the Office of the Executive Secretary in behalf of the national government. The Department of Health, Department of Science and Technology, and the Office of Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea held several meetings to "align," Duque said. More than a month later, the health secretary said he was informed by Medialdea's office that the DOH will sign for the three agencies. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said this was decided upon just so they can move forward with the deal.

From receiving the go-signal from OES on September 25, Duque said he signed the CDA on October 20. He added vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. also signed it in November. Duque said he has all the documents to prove he did not delay the deal, adding the papers will be part of his report to President Rodrigo Duterte who has asked him to explain in public.

RELATED: Duterte sees no major lapse from Duque on Pfizer deal controversy

No 'kickvacc'

Duque also denied any hint of corruption surrounding the botched deal to buy the Pfizer vaccines, even as senators warned the DOH may face criminal charges for the delayed transaction. He dismissed the allegation of Senator Francis Pangilinan that some officials may have asked for 'kickvacc' (kickback) or commissions from the purchase deal.

"Unang-una, hindi pwede magkaroon ng corruption dito [First of all, there can't be any corruption here] because the President really abhors corruption. He will be the one to jail you himself if you are corrupt. He has already yanked out several of his Cabinet members," Duque said. "Wala iyan, walang kickback 'yan [There's none, there's no kickback here]."

With the missed delivery, Ambassador Romualdez said the Philippines can next secure supply from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech by June 2021 at the earliest — with possibly only 5 million doses.