Harry Roque gave the first significant positive news of the new year.

In a news conference, he announced ecstatically the forthcoming delivery of a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), a silver bullet President Rodrigo Duterte promised almost a year ago to defeat the pandemic.

Roque said 50,000 Chinese-developed vaccines would be delivered to the country next month, part of the 25 million doses the government had secured from China’s Sinovac.

However, the good news might be premature, raising false hopes for Filipinos waiting for the end of the coronavirus pandemic because there are official steps to be followed before the doses are actually delivered and allowed for public use.

First, an agreement must be signed between the government and the vaccine-maker, similar to what AstraZeneca did in November when it inked a tripartite deal with the Philippine government and a private sector group, which actually made the order and paid 700 million pesos for the doses.

Second, there must be an approval from the local regulatory agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Any food and drug, including vaccines, must pass rigid scrutiny based on international standards before the FDA issues a permit for public use.

But the FDA has not approved any commercial use of any vaccine because there are certain steps observed before it could allow public access to any dose. The FDA is only approving for emergency use, similar to what was done abroad.

The fact is only three vaccines had applied for emergency use authorization — the American Pfizer, the British AstraZeneca and the Russian Sputnik V. No Chinese vaccine has applied for emergency use in the country.

Separately, the FDA has approved only two vaccines for clinical trials in the country — Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen and China’s Clover Pharmaceuticals.

Roque has failed to show proof an agreement was signed between the government and Sinovac. He also did not mention how much the government would pay for the 25 million vaccines and where the funds for vaccine acquisition would be sourced.

The real good news for millions of Filipinos actually came from local government officials who had announced they had signed deals to buy vaccines from AstraZeneca for their constituents. More than 60 provincial, city and municipal governments have already expressed interest in procuring AstraZeneca shots, expecting deliveries in the second and third quarter this year.

But these agreements were done through the central government, which has the sole power to negotiate and deal with the pharmaceutical corporations because the vaccines are still for emergency use.

What puzzles many people is the Duterte administration’s great faith in vaccines developed from China. The Sinovac vaccines are priced higher than the British-developed AstraZeneca and the efficacy rates are much lower.

News reports from Reuters said the Sinovac vaccine developed in partnership between China and Brazil has an efficacy rate of 60 percent to 78 percent based on trials in the South American country.

In China, it was granted authority for limited use compared with the state-owned Sinopharm, which obtained approval for public use late last month.

In terms of safety, it is difficult to say whether all the vaccines against the coronavirus disease have no adverse side effects because these were developed in less than a year. Normally, vaccines are developed on an average of 10-15 years and the fastest vaccine approved for public use was against mumps, which took only four years, according to the World Health Organization.

The public must also know the vaccines were developed based on different platforms. Unicef, which has the herculean task of making sure all countries — rich or poor — would have access to the vaccines, said there were already 10 vaccines in use worldwide.

No vaccines have been approved in the Philippines as FDA head Eric Domingo said these must pass scrutiny before getting the green light even if other countries had approved them.

Even the vaccine used by an elite military unit was unauthorized, a clear violation of the FDA law even if no adverse side effects had surfaced on hundreds of soldiers who were given the vaccine from China.

The vaccination issue has become political. Duterte would like the people to forget it, blocking any formal investigation by his political foes in the two houses of Congress to hold accountable the people behind the illegal inoculation.

The military, which planned a separate inquiry, was forced to abandon its own fact-finding and allowed the Presidential Security Group to get away with violations of its own articles of war, a breach of the rigid military discipline that glues together members of the armed forces.

The unauthorized use of a Chinese vaccine sets a very dangerous precedent that could destroy the military organization as well as the country’s political and legal system.

Duterte’s opposition to any inquiry on the soldiers’ illegal inoculation displayed the culture of impunity prevailing under his administration, not only in the unabated killings of street-level drug peddlers and users and anti-government activists and suspected rebel supporters.

It is also getting clearer the country’s vaccine program is becoming a foreign policy issue. It could drag the country into the escalating rivalry between the United States and China.

If the country is pushing for an independent foreign policy, it should avoid giving preference to either China or the United States in vaccine procurement.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, a staunch advocate of US interests in the country, has preferred the American vaccine Pfizer and the Philippine Ambassador to the United States, Jose Manuel “Babes” Romualdez, has been negotiating with another US-based vaccine maker for Moderna shots.

On the other hand, people close to Duterte had committed to acquire Sinovac even before the finance department has to conclude a deal with the Chinese pharmaceutical company on the cost of the vaccine and where the funds for the procurement would come.

Sinovac was using an inactivated vaccine, developed by a Chinese private pharmaceutical company in collaboration with Brazil’s Butantan research center.

In November, scientific journal Lancet published preliminary results from Sinovac’s early trials, showing the vaccine was safe but produced only a moderate immune response, with lower levels of antibodies compared with those in patients who have recovered from Covid-19.

Apart from trials in Brazil, phase three trials were done in Indonesia and Bangladesh. Indonesia will soon accept deliveries of the Sinovac vaccines where it still has limited use in China.

Pfizer’s nucleic-acid vaccine uses the first mRNA dose in history. Although trials showed it is safe and effective, there were side effects to people with allergies after it was widely used in the US and the United Kingdom.

Pfizer has applied for emergency use in the Philippines and the FDA may grant approval next week. China’s Sinovac has no emergency use application, but some officials said it could apply soon before the delivery next month.

The sudden visit of China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Manila could indicate a quicker approval of China’s vaccine by the country’s food and drug regulator as the government already announced the shipment next month of Sinovac.

However, many Filipinos distrust China’s vaccine because of its lower efficacy rate compared with Western doses, prompting the government to force the people to use Sinovac because it will be the only available dose before AstraZeneca delivers shipments in April and May this year.

Filipinos may not really welcome Roque’s good news but it will certainly please China when the Philippines starts inoculating its population with Sinovac. It would confirm the Philippines’ subservience to China.