Palace says bribery of drug regulators won’t happen in Philippines

Palace says bribery of drug regulators won't happen in Philippines
This file photo taken on September 24, 2020 shows a staff member working during a media tour of a new factory built to produce a COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at Sinovac, one of 11 Chinese companies approved to carry out clinical trials of potential coronavirus vaccines, in Beijing. With the rollout of coronavirus vaccines beginning across the world, China has positioned itself as a key player, promising poorer nations priority access to its jabs.

MANILA, Philippines — Health authorities tasked to study potential COVID-19 vaccines won't allow any form of bribery, Malacañang said Thursday, following reports that Chinese firm and vaccine front-runner Sinovac had bribed regulators to secure approvals.

The Washington Post reported last week that Sinovac — one of the companies negotiating with the Philippines for the possible purchase of COVID-19 vaccine dosages — has "acknowledged" the bribery case involving its chief executive officer (CEO). The CEO had claimed that he could not refuse demands for money from a regulatory official, the report said.

One of the statements cited by the report was a 2016 trial testimony, wherein Sinovac's founder had supposedly admitted to giving bribes from 2002 to 2011 to an official reviewing vaccines.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte is confident that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would be able to perform its functions properly.

"Well, we are consistent in saying that we will only allow the use of vaccines that are proven to be safe and effective against COVID-19," Roque said at a press briefing.

"The president has complete trust in Dr. (FDA director-general Eric) Domingo so when it comes to allegations of bribery, I don't think it will happen in the Philippines," he added.

The health department has given assurances that the expert panel that would examine COVID-19 vaccines would look into the allegations against Sinovac.

Roque said Sinovac may be the first vaccine to be distributed in the Philippines, which has logged more than 443,000 COVID-19 infections. The rollout of the vaccine is expected to start within the first quarter.

"The target remains that Sinovac will be the first that we can use to vaccinate our people and it will be in the first quarter of next year," Roque said.

Roque said vaccine doses from Pfizer would come in the second and the third quarter of 2021, noting that an agreement has been brokered by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The government is also planning to buy vaccine doses from United Kingdom's AstraZeneca.

"I did not lie ever. We are not having difficulties. But the truth is, the rich nations have cornered the supply. But we have ways (to buy vaccine doses). The President would find it unacceptable if we fail to gain access to vaccines," Roque said.

"And I think (vaccine czar) Secretary (Carlito) Galvez, (Jr.) will take the cue from the president to do anything and everything that is necessary so Filipinos will have a vaccine," he added.

Earlier this month, Duterte issued Executive Order No. 121 allowing the FDA director general to issue emergency use authorization for COVID-19 medicines and vaccines.

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