Opinion

Vaccine procurement

Vaccine procurement

Officials of the Food and Drug Administration have given assurance that all deals involving any procurement of COVID-19 vaccines made in China will be aboveboard.

The assurance was given amid concerns generated by a report published earlier this month by the Washington Post about previous bribery cases involving Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac and food and drug regulators in certain countries. While these were cases before the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns have been raised about a possible pattern of bribery in the way the company does business.

Sinovac is one of at least two Chinese companies being eyed by the Philippine government as possible sources of COVID vaccines. Beijing has offered its vaccines for free to several underdeveloped countries. It is still unclear if the Chinese-made vaccines that are likely to be used in the Philippines alongside jabs made in other countries will be donated for free by Beijing.

Vaccinating about 70 million Filipinos to achieve herd immunity needs hefty funding. In the 2021 national budget approved this week by Congress and now waiting for President Duterte’s signature, P72.5 billion has been appropriated for the procurement of COVID vaccines. The country may seek access to the $9-billion Asia Pacific Vaccine Access Facility that has just been launched by the Asian Development Bank to provide rapid and equitable financing support to member countries with limited resources for vaccine procurement.

That’s a lot of public money needed for emergency procurement. Government procurement laws, aside from limited funds, had prevented the country from quickly placing advance orders for vaccines being developed by reputable pharmaceutical companies. The nature of this crippling pandemic eventually prompted President Duterte to authorize rapid emergency procurement. Transparency will dispel any suspicions of anomalies in the procurement process.

Even as the country prepares for the arrival of COVID vaccines, health officials are grappling with vaccine hesitancy and skepticism. The last thing the country needs is a corruption scandal involving vaccine procurement.