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Senator wary of vaccine deal

Fears corruption as Sinovac prices differ; House probes

Sharp differences in the quoted prices for the Sinovac vaccine in the Philippines and elsewhere seem to point to corruption, Senator Panfilo M. Lacson said Sunday, as the House of Representatives announced its own probe.

“The difference in prices of Sinovac vaccine at $5, $14 and $38 reminds me of an old story about how corruption is committed in three Southeast Asian countries--under the table, on the table, and including the table,” Lacson said.

“Here, it may cost $38.50 (P1,847.25) per dose but is covered by a confidentiality disclosure agreement,” he said.

While Sinovac’s product may cost as little as $5 per dose, Lacson said it may cost as much as a whopping $38 (more than P1,800) in the Philippines.

A news article on Bangkok Post dated Jan. 16, 2021 - citing figures from the World Health Organization and from the manufacturers - indicated the price of Sinovac was only $5 per dose.

However, during the budget deliberations last November, the Department of Health provided the Senate committee on finance the data on the Sinovac price of P3,629.50 for two doses.

From the Palace, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said while the actual price cannot be disclosed yet, Sinovac’s vaccine should cost only about P650 per dose, similar to its pricing in other countries.

In a Dobol B sa News TV interview Sunday, Roque explained why the government could still not reveal the exact price of Sinovac to the public.

During the hearings of the Senate Committee of the Whole last week, Lacson also noted implementers of the vaccination program seemed to have a preference for privately owned Sinovac - which may fuel speculation that corruption is involved in the government’s dealings with Sinovac.

While vaccine procurement is supposed to be done on a government-to-government basis, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said he was dealing directly with an executive of Biotech Sinovac Ltd. based in Hong Kong.

“Sinovac has a track record of bribery... why insist on dealing with them?” Lacson asked in an interview on radio dwIZ Saturday.

“Considering all these, can we blame the lawmakers and even our countrymen [for expressing] suspicion [about] the government’s vaccination program?” Lacson added.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon reiterated on Sunday that as a matter of policy, the gold standard for choosing Covid-19 vaccines should be efficacy and safety, nothing else.

“Smuggling of vaccines is a law enforcement issue, which should be separately addressed,” he said when sought for his comment on whether or not delays in procurement and inoculation will encourage more smuggling of vaccines.

He emphasized the success of the vaccination program and the country’s economic recovery would depend on the country’s ability to inoculate at least 60 percent of the population.

He pointed out the need for the government to address the people’s fear to get inoculated, and strengthen their confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines.

Senator Francis Pangilinan said that aside from logistics in acquiring the vaccines and implementing the vaccination program, the bulk of the work of the government is restoring confidence in vaccination.

Pangilinan cited a Pulse Asia survey conducted late last year showing that nearly half or 47 percent of Filipinos do not want to get vaccinated.

To convince half of the population who are unwilling to be vaccinated, he said the Philippines should not settle for a pwede na or passing efficacy and safety standards.

He said scientific evidence should be the only basis for the use of vaccines on Filipinos.

“While we appreciate the gesture, the donation of 500,000 Chinese vaccines should not pressure FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) and HTAC (Health Technology Assessment Council) to approve its use. Science, data, and the results of clinical trials should be the basis and not “political goodwill’,” he said.

At the second hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole, senators asked the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to detail the vaccine roll-out plan after some government officials released conflicting information to the public.

Pangilinan pointed out the different numbers of vaccines and the different vaccination schedules that have been bandied about.

Pangilinan said he wants the Senate to receive a regular report on the vaccine roll-out effort, including the targets and the list of resources to be used for it. He said these should serve as key indicators of success or failure of the vaccine roll-out.

On the separate vaccine roll-outs of local governments and the private sector, Pangilinan said best practices must be used as a template and basis for giving additional resources to government officials who know the reality on the ground.

Pangilinan recalled the slow COVID response over the past 11 months, including delays in the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing kits.

He advised Galvez to effectively engage with “the energetic and dynamic” local government units (LGUs) and the private sector, which could be his “army,” given the dismal government performance in addressing the pandemic and its effects over the last 11 months.

“I’d like you to be a general with an army. And I would like to avoid the delays experienced over the past year,” Panglinan added.

The senator stressed the need for transparency and informing the people of important decisions regarding the vaccination program.

Also on Sunday, Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan, committee on health chairperson, said her panel would take up the cost of procured vaccines on Monday.

She said the committee could inquire on the actual price of vaccines through an executive session since officials said they are bound by a confidentiality agreement with the manufacturers of the vaccines procured.

Reports have come out that Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine is cheaper in Indonesia than its estimated and reported cost in the Philippines, her statement read.

“It’s important that we learn whether the vaccines procured are as cost-efficient as they are safe and effective,” Tan said.

“We would also like to inquire whether Filipinos will be afforded the opportunity to choose and purchase out-of-pocket their ...vaccines, and how much these will cost for those who would choose this option,” she added.

The committee, prompted by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, scheduled the hearing to ensure that the multibillion-peso budget allocated for inoculation would be used to procure the most effective and safest vaccine against the virus.

“The mass vaccination is a huge undertaking by the Executive Department. We hope to provide concerned government agencies a platform to present to the people their roadmap for this endeavor,” Tan said.

“We will also determine, through this hearing, concrete legislative measures we can craft to ensure that the government succeeds in this program,” she added.

The virtual hearing will include Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Galvez, and a list of health experts from the public and private sectors.

Galvez, meanwhile, said the inoculation program would run for three years.

“Our vision is to have all the population vaccinated but our immediate target for this year is to have the herd immunity,” said Galvez during the continuation of the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing on the government’s vaccination plan against the news coronavirus.

“If we achieve the 148 million doses we will be on track,” Galvez said.

Herd immunity is when most of a population is immune to an infectious disease that would provide indirect protection to those who are not immune to the disease.

To attain herd immunity, health officials said the target is to vaccinate up to 70 million Filipinos and get 148 million doses of vaccine this year.

Also on Sunday, Senator Imee Marcos on Sunday called on the government to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines are ‘halal’ or permissible to millions of Muslim Filipinos, so that vaccines do not go to waste and more people can be immunized.

“Being mindful of religious and cultural beliefs will prevent losses in government spending and encourage vaccination,” Marcos said.

Topics: Sinovac , COVID-19 , Panfilo Lacson , China , Franklin Drilon , World Health Organization , Rodrigo Duterte , Health Technology Assessment Council
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