The Department of Health (DOH) today manifested its commitment to proactively uphold accountability and transparency in the country’s COVID-19 vaccine procurements during the initial public hearing held by the Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations (Blue Ribbon Committee). The DOH, led by Officer-In-Charge (OIC) Maria Rosario Singh-Vergeire, likewise reiterated that it will continue to exhaust all efforts to ensure that vaccine wastage among national government-procured vaccines remains minimal.

Whole-of-Government Approach

As part of the discussions, the DOH emphasized that the COVID-19 vaccine procurement portfolio is extensive, requiring a broad range of highly-specialized skills exclusively carried by specific government agencies. As such, facilitating the procurement process – from negotiations until the delivery and rollout of the procured doses – requires a whole-of-government approach, with different agencies leading different components of the process through identified task groups as specified under DOH AO 2021-0005 or the National Strategic Policy Framework for COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment and Immunization.

Pursuant to AO 2021-0005, the DOH only led the Task Groups on Cold Chain and Logistics Management, and Immunization Program. It was heavily involved only in the Task Groups for Vaccine Evaluation and Selection through the HTAC and FDA (DOST as lead); and Demand Generation and Communications (PCOO as lead). In parallel, the Task Groups on Diplomatic Engagement and Negotiations, charged with initiating discussions with potential suppliers and manufacturers and negotiating prices; and on Procurement and Finance, in charge of facilitating the procurement process, were led by the DFA and DOF, respectively.

Protecting Future Public Health Prospects

Moreover, the DOH clarified that it has always been willing to provide the needed information on vaccine procurement, in response to issues surrounding its alleged refusal to provide the said information to Congress and the Commission on Audit (COA) due to the Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). The DOH reiterated that it has, in fact, been very proactive in requesting for the conduct of a special audit for the COVID-19 vaccine procurements, as evidenced by official DOH correspondences to COA as early as 2021.

Despite the NDAs posing a potential hurdle to full disclosure, the DOH clarified that the DOH and NTF will comply with all COA audit requirements. The agency explained that disclosing information covered by the confidentiality agreements without explicit consent from the manufacturers has legal as well as public health repercussions. Such disclosure may result in manufacturers’ loss of confidence, which may, in turn, harm the country’s future prospects to be prioritized or even to secure life-saving vaccines and other products for Filipinos.

As such, the DOH, as early as 2021, has coordinated with vaccine manufacturers to secure their consent to disclose information and enable procurement audits free from legal liability. Of the manufacturers engaged by the GOP, AstraZeneca and Pfizer have given their consent for DOH to disclose information under specific terms.

Upholding Accountability

The DOH reiterated its commitment to ensure that vaccine wastage is minimized and taxpayer money is well-spent and accounted for. Following recent reports that millions of doses of vaccines stocks have expired, the DOH noted that bulk of the wastage comes from procurements made by the private sector (44.82%) and LGUs (33.35%).

On the other hand, out of the total vaccines procured by the national government financed through general appropriations and loans from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the DOH revealed that only 2.02% (2.7M out of 134M) of the total number of procured vaccines have expired. The DOH underscored that this sits well below the globally recognized maximum allowable vaccine wastage rate of 25% set by the GAVI alliance, and may even be viewed as being significantly lower relative to vaccine wastage rates recorded in other countries, which go as high as 30%.

Furthermore, the DOH revealed that 10.95% of the country’s total accumulated expired vaccines was donated through the COVAX facility. It has secured the commitment of the COVAX facility to replace expired doses with bivalent vaccines which better contribute to vaccination efforts.

While the DOH noted that vaccine wastage is inevitable, the agency continues to implement strategies to reduce the occurrence of wastage by employing effective supply chain management and boosting vaccination rates amidst low vaccine uptake.