PH may still cancel Sinovac vaccine deal – Galvez

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Despite announcing earlier that the government secured 25 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from China's Sinovac, Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr. and other officials clarified the deal is not yet final and they can still opt out, since the vaccine has yet to receive regulatory approval. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 15) — Despite announcing earlier that the government secured 25 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from China's Sinovac, Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr. and other officials clarified the deal is not yet final and they can still opt out, since the vaccine has yet to receive regulatory approval.

When asked whether agreements with firms like Sinovac are already a "done deal", Galvez said that is not the case.

"Ang sa atin pa lang po ngayon [For now,] we are [just] dealing with the term sheet. Posible rin [It could also be possible] we have to lock (the supply), so that they can already make production. So sa ngayon po, wala pa pong government funds tayong naibibigay," clarified the official during Friday's hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole.

[Translation: As of now, we haven't given out government funds yet.]

Finance Undersecretary Mark Joven explained the term sheet states that Sinovac will sell doses to the country in tranches, but that does not already mean the government committed to buy them.

"Because of the term sheet, Sinovac has a commitment to sell and deliver to us 50,000 doses before the end of February at a price certain but we don't have an obligation to buy from them until they meet certain conditions among which is the execution of a term sheet and... getting the proper regulatory approvals," said Joven.

COVID-19 deputy chief implementer Vince Dizon also said the purchase of Sinovac's vaccine would still depend on the expert panel's recommendation.

"Hindi pa po final ito [This is not yet final]," he said.

Sinovac already applied for Emergency Use Authorization in the Philippines, but FDA Director General Eric Domingo said the agency has yet to begin evaluating the application since the company has not yet submitted its phase 3 clinical trial results. Although Sinovac already has EUA from China and Argentina, the FDA would still have to carefully check its vaccines since they have not been approved by a "stringent regulatory agency," Domingo stressed.

Senators reminded Galvez and other officials to be careful in making pronouncements and urged them to address "communication problems" since vaccine confidence is also at stake.

"Last hearing, 25 million doses of Sinovac ang sinabi na locked in and secure. Ngayon 50,000 na lang at naiklaro kanina na hindi pa tayo obligado na bilhin at kunin 'yun unless pumasa sa mga standards," said Senator Joel Villanueva.

[Translation: Last hearing it was said 25 million doses of Sinovac have been locked in and secured. Now it's at 50,000 and it was clarified that we are not yet obligated to buy them unless they pass the standards.]

Senators also raised that the Sinovac vaccine only has a 50% efficacy rate, much lower compared to brands like Pfizer and AstraZeneca. They also cited reports it should only be used on severe COVID-19 infections.

"You should exert every effort to earn the confidence of our people in so far as the vaccine is concerned," said Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon. "And given all that we have heard...the insistence or preference for Sinovac cannot be denied."

While the FDA said it has yet to see the final report on the effects of Sinovac's vaccine, Galvez denied favoring the Chinese firm.

"Rest assured that the procurement of the vaccine is not based on any political interest or financial interest," he maintained.

CNN Philippines' Producer Pilar Manuel contributed to this report.