The local government of Bacolod City is facing a P98-million debt after the highly-praised COVID-19 vaccination program of former mayor Bing Leonardia ended with more than 300,000 expired doses of AstraZeneca vaccines.
Leonardia’s administration reportedly purchased hundreds of thousands of doses, while also hustling for the city’s share from the national government stockpile, especially during the Delta-variant surge in September 2021.
In a press conference on Monday (July 11), current Bacolod City Mayor Albee Benitez shared that an AstraZeneca representative reported that the Leonardia administration had ordered 650,000 doses in all.
According to the AZ representative, the previous administration paid an initial P65 million but still had a P98 million balance.
However, Benitez said city health office records showed that only 216,000 doses arrived in the city. The more than 300,000 expired vaccines were kept at the Department of Health (DOH) storage facility in Metro Manila.
These were fully utilized by the local government as it received praise for being among the pioneers of making vaccine rounds in villages and markets, corporate workplaces, and extending vaccination hours in areas where the most vulnerable sectors of the local population gathered.
The AstraZeneca representative told Benitez they delivered the remaining doses late in 2021 to the DOH but were told the city already had enough stocks.
Meanwhile, Dr. Chris Sorongon, spokesperson of former Leonardia, on Tuesday clarified that no vaccines kept at the Bacolod cold storage facility have expired.
Sorongon pointed out that the tripartite agreement entered into by and between the city government, the Department of Health (DOH), and pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca is a contractual obligation that must be honored.
He said, however, that the call on whether or not they will honor the stipulations contained in the contract now rests in the hands of the new city administration under Mayor Albee Benitez.
“To set the record straight, no vaccine expired at the Bacolod storage facility. The expired vaccines he was referring to are with DOH central facility of which we have no control of and form part of the multi-lateral agreement between the national government, represented by DOH, AZ and Bacolod City,” explained Sorongon, who also served as deputy director of the then Emergency Operations Center Task Force against COVID-19.
Many highly-urbanized local government units (LGUs) like Bacolod City opted to purchase their own vaccine supplies in a bid to hasten vaccination in their cities, as opposed to the national government’s chaotic policies at the time and preference for the Chinese brand Sinovac.
While these cities took initiative, the national government said they would all still have to wait as all deliveries and redistribution would be centralized. Later, then-president Rodrigo Duterte encouraged LGUs to help the national government by ordering their own supplies.
Pola Rubio is a news writer and photojournalist covering Philippine politics and events. She regularly follows worldwide and local happenings. She advocates for animal welfare and press freedom. Follow her on Twitter @polarubyo for regular news and cat postings.
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