VERA FILES FACT SHEET: The vaccine czar, explained

Read this fact check in Filipino

As the country prepares for late-stage clinical trials for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines to start in December, President Rodrigo Duterte named Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. as vaccine czar.

In a Nov. 2 briefing at Malacañang, the president said: "I only want one line of authority coming from dito sa Task Force sa pagbili ng bakuna (here in the task force for the procurement of vaccines)...Ibinigay ko ‘yan kay (I gave that to) Secretary Galvez.”

“I have great faith in Charlie to really come up with the solutions for the problem," he added.

Galvez is part of the National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19. His new designation will be on top of his responsibilities as chief implementer of the National Action Plan to contain, isolate, and mitigate the impact of COVID-19. As chief implementer, he is in charge of enforcing “strict compliance and adherence of both public and private sectors to the guidelines and protocols” issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), which is led by the Department of Health (DOH).

In a statement posted on Facebook on Nov. 3 congratulating Galvez for the appointment, former special adviser to the NTF Tony Leachon said: “It’s going to be a tough job since he would spread himself too thinly which might risk his huge job as the Chief Implementer of the NTF vs COVID-19.”

Galvez joins four other czars under the NTF: Bases Conversion and Development Authority chief Vince Dizon, chief testing czar; Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, chief tracing czar; Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar, chief isolation czar; and Health Undersecretary Bong Vega, chief treatment czar.

Galvez made his first appearance as vaccine czar in a press briefing on Nov. 3, during which he presented the Philippine National Vaccine Roadmap containing a seven-stage plan for the government’s COVID-19 Immunization Program.

After some health professionals and advocacy groups called for the creation of a technical committee of multi-disciplinary expertsーas echoed by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph RectoーGalvez announced in a Nov. 5 public briefing that a “core group” will be formed consisting of the vaccine expert panel, and experts on logistics, information, diplomatic arrangement, and procurement to coordinate national efforts to the local levels.

What exactly is the role of the vaccine czar in the country’s current COVID-19 pandemic response? Here are two things you should know.

1. What is a vaccine czar?

The designation of a vaccine czar is among the "new strategies" that the country adopted to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, whose scope and reach is bigger than previous epidemicsーSARS, MERS-CoV, and Ebolaーexperienced in the country, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Singh-Vergeire told VERA Files in a letter on Nov. 5.

His “main concern” will be the “purchase, negotiation, and distribution,” as well as “institutionalizing end-to-end vaccine delivery” of the COVID-19 vaccine, Vergeire added.

The IATF’s Resolution No. 83 outlines the vaccine czar’s duties:

Vergeire said the World Health Organization (WHO) Solidarity Vaccine Trials and independent trials “have their own principal investigators and Contract Research Organization who will directly supervise and monitor the said trials,” and the vaccine czar is responsible for “coordinating across various agencies, actors, and technical working groups on behalf of DOH.”

In his Nov. 3 Facebook post, Leachon, former president of the Philippine College of Physicians, said the vaccine czar needs “extensive experience” in pharmaceutical medicine, regulatory and clinical affairs, public health, clinical research in vaccination, epidemiology, procurement, supply chain and distributionーapart from “extensive leadership experience in logistics in both domestic and international arena.”

“Galvez is maybe for arms and, of course, deployment of people during war. I’m not sure whether it would be likened to launching a productーa vaccineーwhich would entail medical expertise,” Leachon told VERA Files in a phone interview on Nov. 5.

While Galvez, a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines who remains head of the Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), has a background in peace negotiations, he has no track record in the medical field.

“Wala tayo usually [na] (We usually don’t have a) vaccine czar. Usually it’s the Secretary of Health that is in charge. For any epidemic for that matter, it should be somebody with medical expertise. And then you will get people who are going to help you,” Leachon added.

Given the limited doses to be rolled out in the WHO COVAX Facility, a global initiative to produce and distribute vaccines for more than 172 countries, Leachon also said the vaccine czar should expect “top logistics challenge” since the Philippines has a “very low logistical base” against ultra-freezing storage requirements of the vaccines.

2. How does the vaccine czar fit in with the country’s COVID-19 pandemic response?

As Duterte said in the Nov. 2 briefing, he wants only “one line of authority” for the purchase of vaccines.

In a Nov. 4 DOH media forum, Vergeire assured the public that Galvez’s appointment “will not change anything” in the country’s regulatory process to “ensure that these vaccines would be safe and efficacious”:

“No processes will be changed, madadagdagan lang po siguro (maybe it will just increase) because we now have this vaccine czar, our leader. Baka maga-add siya ng more expeditious na mga proseso para mas mabilis po tayo (Perhaps he would add more expeditious processes so we can be quicker).

Source: Department of Health, DOH Beat COVID-19 Media Forum | November 04, 2020, Nov. 4, 2020, watch from 36:27 to 36:41.

Vergeire said Galvez will continue to work with other agencies, including DOH, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Bureau of Investments, among others.

With Galvez now in the picture, his role in the current pandemic response is more akin to a “conductor of a symphony orchestra,” said Leachon.

Galvez will lead the COVID-19 Vaccine Cluster of the NTF comprising six task groups focused on vaccine development, vaccine procurement and finance, and vaccine deployment and rollout, according to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Nov. 9 in the DOH press briefing.

Along with these task groups, Galvez said there will also be three independent advisory groups: the Health Technology Assessment Committee (HTAC), the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG), and the National Adverse Events Following Immunization Committee (NAEFIC).

In an email interview with VERA Files on Nov. 4, Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV) Executive Director Lulu Bravo, who was among those who called for a technical advisory group composed of experts of various disciplines, said this is so not one person but a group will vote on all the issues so as “to be transparent and credible.”

Although Galvez has yet to choose the members of the COVID-19 Vaccine Cluster, both Bravo and Leachon said conflict of interest should be an important consideration in the selection process.

As of Nov. 10, no vaccine has been developed and approved for distribution yet for COVID-19, but according to Galvez, there are at least 17 currently being evaluated by DOST, DOH, and the Vaccine Experts Panel.


Sources

Galvez appointed as vaccine czar

Galvez as Chief Implementer of the National Task Force vs COVID-19

Vaccine czar’s qualifications and responsibilities

Profile of Galvez

Philippine National Vaccine Roadmap

COVID-19 Vaccine trials in the Philippines

Department of Health, Beat COVID-19 Media Forum, Oct. 30, 2020

Department of Health, Beat COVID-19 Media Forum, Nov. 4, 2020

Department of Health, Beat COVID-19 Media Forum, Nov. 9, 2020

Presidential Communications Operations Office, Gov't assigns PH anti-COVID czars – Presidential Communications Operations Office, July 13, 2020

Malaya, Experts advisory group for COVID vaccine distribution proposed, Oct. 27, 2020

World Health Organization, Draft landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines, Nov. 3, 2020

Sen. Ralph Recto, Vaccines “not a job for one Superman, but for a broad Justice League”, Nov. 4, 2020

Official Gazette, Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases Resolution No. 15

Official Gazette, Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases Resolution No. 39

Official Gazette, Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases Resolution No. 44

Official Gazette, Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases Resolution No. 68

Official Gazette, Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases Resolution No. 82

Official Gazette, Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases Resolution No. 83

People’s Television, Press briefing with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Nov. 3, 2020


(This story was produced under a Health Fellowship program carried out by VERA Files with support from Facebook. Find out more about this project here.)

(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)

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