Tripartite deal the only option for businesses to buy vaccines – Concepcion

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Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion, Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr., and AstraZeneca Philippines president Lotis Ramin sign the tripartite deal to procure AstraZeneca doses on November 27, 2020 (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 31) — Private firms looking to get their hands on COVID-19 vaccines still need to approach the national government for negotiations with foreign drug makers, Malacañang’s economic adviser said.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night said he’s allowing businessmen to import COVID-19 vaccines “at will,” telling vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr. to give them a free rein in the brands and amounts of doses they want to bring into the country.

“Nothing really changes. Maybe what will change it the tripartite agreements can be done within maybe in a day,” Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion said during the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum on Wednesday.

“The tripartite (deal) is necessary because we don’t have the power to indemnify, that’s a lot of money and you’re dealing with so many corporations,” he added. “There’s no other option, believe me.”

With COVID-19 vaccines only approved for emergency use – and therefore banned to be sold commercially while final phase 4 trials are still underway – Concepcion explained that all vaccine purchases must involve the state.

Meanwhile, indemnification entails compensating an individual who experiences adverse reactions to the vaccine jabs.

The Philippine government is mandated to provide coronavirus vaccines to all eligible Filipinos, but the private sector decided to step in to help fast-track the inoculation program and revive jobs and the economy. However, doses bought by the private sector back in November 2020 are yet to arrive by May at the earliest – a six-month wait.

READ: More companies bare free vaccinations for employees

Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce & Industry president Henry Lim Bon Liong appealed for tripartite deals to be made “simpler and easier for private companies to enter” into.

Bon Liong added FFCCCII has a pending order of 500,000 vials of China-made Sinovac vaccines, but that their agreement has not been signed because he was told that he had to seek clearance from the Department of Finance first. Concepcion said the AstraZeneca deal signed last year only involved the Department of Health and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr.

Both Concepcion and Bon Liong lamented that even if direct imports are allowed, global supply has become scarce. FFCCCII said it placed an order for 1 million doses but was only assured half the amount.

The Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX) said separately that the government should "extend all the help necessary" for vaccine acquisitions by the private sector, with an appeal for some tax breaks.

"The government should allow employers tax deduction for the cost of the vaccines for their employees. That will be big help for businesses," FINEX President Francis Lim said in a text message. He added this should be included in the proposed Bayanihan 3 law "to remove any doubt."

Galvez earlier said vaccine shipments will be tax-free. 

The private sector has signed deals with AstraZeneca and Moderna with the government standing in as middleman. Concepcion added that future agreements should be easier to finalize as there’s already a working template using the previously signed contracts with manufacturers.

Ivermectin use

Some members of the private sector have been supporting calls to allow the emergency use of the Ivermectin drug on humans despite repeated warnings from health authorities.

Bon Liong said he has taken the pill as a “prophylactic” or preventive drug against COVID-19. Such claim, however, has not been proven by scientists. 

“Many people from PCCI (Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry) are also taking this medicine. If I can also mention some of them, even George Barcelon, even Jun Ortiz-Luis, there’s no harm done,” he said. Barcelon confirmed this to CNN Philippines, saying he tried the medicine for a month.

“At this point in time where we cannot get the vaccines yet, whatever you try as much as possible if there’s a second line of defense you can use,” Bon Liong added.

Food and Drug Administration chief Eric Domingo said Tuesday there are no applications for emergency or compassionate use of Ivermectin on humans, which is currently approved for the prevention or purging of parasites in animals.

Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the representative of the World Health Organization to the Philippines, also told House lawmakers that the medical evidence for Ivermectin as a preventive or curative drug against COVID-19 is “not strong enough.”

Dr. Edsel Salvana of the Department of Health’s Technical Advisory Group, citing a study, previously said that while Ivermectin is generally safe, “at the doses required for possible antiviral activity, it can cause brain damage.”

READ: Ivermectin drug is not effective at treating mild COVID-19, study finds