Congressmen seek probe of coronavirus vaccine program

SEVERAL congressmen have sought an investigation of the government’s coronavirus vaccination program, citing a conflict between high-ranking Executive officials about vaccine orders.

There seems to be an “apparent conflict” within the Duterte administration about the procurement of the vaccines, representatives from the six-man Makabayan bloc of the House of Representatives said in a resolution.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. earlier tweeted that someone had bungled a deal to buy 10 million vaccine doses from US drug maker Pfizer, Inc. for delivery next month.

He said he and Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel  Romualdez had secured the contract “but somebody dropped the ball.”

Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III refuted the social media post, saying he signed the agreement on Oct. 20 after reviewing it for potentially onerous provisions.

Controversies “have already hounded the procurement  process, with alleged issues of supposed conflict of interest, corruption and  profiteering surfacing,” according to the House resolution.

Even if the vaccines are ordered on time, there are issues that need to be resolved such as the country’s supply chain and cold storage capacity.

The lawmakers also cited the Health department’s poor immunization track record. The Department of Health (DoH) has been “lagging  behind in its immunization programs, with only 10.6% of the  population fully vaccinated, they said, citing government data from 2017.

DoH reported 1,314 coronavirus infections on Tuesday, bringing the total to 462,815.

The death toll rose by 66 to 9,021 while recoveries increased by 247 to 429,419, it said in a bulletin.

There were 24,375 active cases, 82.6% of which were mild, 8.5% were symptomatic, 5.7% were critical, 2.9% were severe and 0.31% were moderate.

Quezon City reported the highest number of new infections at 93, followed by Rizal province at 89, Benguet at 78, Bulacan at 61 and Davao City at 60.

DoH said four duplicates had been removed from the tally, while 31 recovered cases were reclassified as deaths.

Two cases reported as deaths have recovered after validation. 10 laboratories failed to submit their data on Dec. 21, it said.

Health authorities on Monday said they have not detected a new coronavirus strain similar to a rapidly spreading variant that has caused cases to soar in the United Kingdom.

It did not see the need to impose a similar ban on British diplomats and investors who are allowed to come here, but the government would boost monitoring to prevent the virus from entering, it said.

Europe has closed its doors to British travelers after the UK tightened its COVID-19 restrictions for London and nearby areas, and reversed plans to relax restrictions during the Christmas holiday.

The coronavirus has sickened about 77.8 million and killed 1.7 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

About 54.7 million people have recovered, it said. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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