By Deighton Acuin

PHOTO: Manila Bulletin

An official said Friday the arrest warrants over the Dengvaxia vaccine controversy has “changed everything” in negotiations to secure coronavirus vaccine doses, as the Philippines still unsure on when the vaccination program will start.

Vaccine Czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said the drugmakers are afraid to suffer the same controversy as the French Sanofi Pasteur pharmaceuticals faced lawsuits over Dengvaxia inoculation that allegedly caused severe dengue symptoms among its recipients.

Earlier, arrest warrants were issued on three Sanofi officials regarding the issue.

“Nag-change iyong situation, we have to understand. Iyong nangyari sa warrant of arrest sa Sanofi, it has great implications on our procurement, really,” Galvez said.

“It changed everything, iyong lahat ng agreement namin. It changed everything.”

The absence of indemnification agreement has caused delay in arrival of batches containing 117,000 doses from United States pharmaceutical firm Pfizer-BioNTech through COVAX Facility. The deal, according to Galvez, would protect producers from lawsuits in case of side effects on individuals who will receive doses.

On Thursday, the vaccine czar said the deal was not required in initial negotiations with Pfizer.

“Para po sa kaalaman ng lahat, noong unang negotiation namin, hindi po iyan po hinihingi ng Pfizer—just now. Kaya medyo nabigla po kami,” he said in a separate briefing.

Galvez added the country signed an indemnity agreement with COVAX Facility and needs to sign another agreement with Pfizer.

Asked if the initial Pfizer shots could still arrive in February, Galvez said, “I cannot say anything yet kasi ongoing pa iyong ating meeting with Pfizer lawyers, and sa ngayon, we are trying hard.”

“We will work out talaga na mayroong darating this coming February,” he added.

The Philippines is “almost on the top of the priority not only for Pfizer, but also for AstraZeneca,” Galvez said, quoting the GAVI alliance that coordinates the COVAX Facility with the World Health Organization.

He added the shipments were delayed globally,” not just in the Philippines, due to top 3 contributors that failed to meet promised production.

“There is still hope. Kaya lang, sinasabi nga nila na (but they say) we should be patient and our expectation should not be that much because they are still learning,” he said. 

The Philippines has not yet received any of the 148 million COVID-19 shots that it hopes to give to around 70 million people this year. 

Further delays in the vaccination drive could derail economic recovery after the country's worst contraction on record last year, when it slumped 9.5 percent, the biggest decline in Southeast Asia.