The Philippine government’s choice for which coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine to buy should be based on science, not a political favor.

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros issued this statement as experts raised questions on the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Chinese pharmaceutical Sinovac, which government entered a deal with recently for 25 million doses for roll-out in the first quarter of 2021.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros(Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)
Sen. Risa Hontiveros
(Senate of the Philippines / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Hontiveros said that the Sinovac vaccine has yet to undergo assessment by the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

She stressed that there is “no problem if the Chinese vaccine is safe, effective and cheap” but the domestic agencies need to “back it up with scientific proof before we make any commitments.”

“This stands for any and all possible vaccines. No shortcuts,” she added.

This developed as Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian said the FDA should be more proactive in getting vaccines approved.

‘’They cannot just wait for applications to fall on their lap. The country is losing P5 billion a day in economic losses under this pandemic. We need to go back to work and jumpstart the economy,’’ he added.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said an offer was made to secure the country 10 million doses of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine as early as January 2021.

“But somebody dropped the ball,” he added in his Twitter account.

Reacting, Senator Panfilo M. Lacson suggested to Locsin that ‘’next time, don’t pass it to that doggone ‘sanamagan’ teammate of yours. He keeps dropping the ball. Our people need those vaccines!’’

Lacson did not identify who this ‘’sanamagan’’ is.         “Before we declare preference of any vaccine, I remind government that the first and only priority should be safety. Bago subukan, dapat safe at walang malubhang side effect ang bakuna na ituturok sa ilang milyong Pinoy. Bawat health standard at safety step ay dapat sundan. Hindi ito dapat madaliin,” Hontiveros said. (Before injecting {the vaccine} to millions of Filipinos, the vaccine must be safe and there are no serious side effects. Health standards and safety step should be followed. There is no need to rush things.)

“There are multiple and undeniable issues surrounding the vaccine offered by China, including transparency of data and results, emerging side effects as seen in Peru and even a company history of bribery. This is enough reason to worry. If we want people to trust the government’s decisions and to trust vaccination, we need to earn it. There should be no compromises. Follow the protocol,” she said.

Hontiveros pointed out that the Sinovac vaccine is one of the most expensive available in the market at P3,629.50 in the Department of Health’s (DOH) projection of prices.

“So if it hasn’t been proven to be safe, and it isn’t even cheap, what is the basis for our preference for this vaccine?” she asked.

The lady senator also warned against China’s ‘vaccine diplomacy,’ citing leading research center Yusof Ishak Institute findings that the vaccine supply is “not unconditional” and that it could be used as a tool to advance the country’s interest in the West Philippine Sea.

“Hindi tayo dapat basta-basta bibili ng bakuna. Do not sacrifice Filipinos’ health on the altar of the President’s bias towards China, which has continuously denied the Hague ruling and abused our waters,” she said. (We should not just buy vaccines.)

‘’This is about health, not politics. We shouldn’t entertain political favors when lives  are at stake, especially not those that can be harmful to the sovereignty of the country. Hindi dapat maging kapalit ng bakuna ang pananahimik ng bansa sa patuloy na pangangamkam at pagbabastos ng China sa West Philippine Sea (WPS),” Hontiveros added. (This vaccine should not be in exchange for the country’s silence in the face of depredations and shameful acts of China in the WPS).

Source: Manila Bulletin (