The Palace on Monday contradicted its own vaccine czar, saying the Philippines has a binding contract with China for its Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine.
The statement from presidential spokesman Harry Roque came after vaccine czar Carlito Galvez testified before the Senate that the purchase of Sinovac vaccines was not yet a done deal.
Finance Undersecretary Mark Joven last week also told senators that while the term sheet for Sinovac’s vaccine states that the Chinese firm will sell doses to the Philippines, it does not mean that the latter is already committed to buying them.
But Roque said both officials were wrong.
The term sheet states that the purchase will push through if Sinovac’s vaccine gets approval from the Philippine drug regulator, Roque told reporters in an online briefing.
“But that is already a binding obligation,” said Roque.
Galvez earlier said he expects Sinovac to obtain an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration next month, as the first 50,000 doses of its vaccine arrives.
Roque said the government will disclose the vaccine’s price after settling the payment. On Sunday, he said it would be about P650 a dose.
In December, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara presented Department of Health estimates that showed two doses of Sinovac would cost P3,629.50, or P1,814.75 per dose, making it the second most expensive among COVID-19 vaccines being considered.
Roque labeled the DOH data as “fake news” in a Sunday radio interview.
Senator Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday clarified he was not prepared to accuse anybody of corruption in he procurement of China’s Sinovac vaccine.
“But let’s just stick to the facts available,” Lacson said. “It is just logical to suspect corruption when there is an attempt at overpricing.”
On Sunday, Lacson said the sharp differences in the prices of Sinovac vaccines in the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries may signal corruption.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the price of Sinovac to be sold to the Philippine government should no longer remain confidential.
“You have the obligation to inform the people, these are public funds,” said Drilon, adding the right to information is a basic rule under the Constitution.
Although the government can invoke a non-disclosure agreement when the deal is still under negotiation, he said it should no longer be the case once an agreement has been signed.
Drilon cited Galvez’s earlier statements that the term-sheet has already been signed by the government and Sinovac to “lock in” 25 million vaccine doses for production.
Since the term-sheet has already been signed, he said its content should no longer be covered by the confidentiality agreement.
Drilon also remarked on the dramatic drop in the price of Sinovac, from the DOH estimate of P3,629.50 for two doses to only P600 for the same two doses, based on Roque’s latest announcement.
When the issue of pricing was raised, the government suddenly reduced the price of Sinovac, he said.
Lacson said clearly, the oversight by the senators was effective in bringing the price of the vaccine down—a view that Galvez later disputed.
In his privilege speech, Lacson also mentioned Roque’s dismissal of the initial quoted price of P3,600 “fake news.” Galvez, on the other hand, said the comparative table that was released by the DOH should have tagged the P3,600 price to Sinopharm, not Sinovac.
Noting that the data was released by the DOH, Lacson said: “We dare ask: are Secretary Roque and Secretary Galvez saying that (Health) Secretary Francisco Duque was the peddler of that fake news?”
“Looking back to last week’s Committee of the Whole two-day hearings, I couldn’t help but think that we’ve been had. Instead of having the information needed to aid us in our legislative work mainly because some people in the panel of our resource persons who are in charge of the vaccine program were not forthright and honest in their responses to the questions raised by the members of this august chamber.”
Lacson said Sinovac was the best- and the worst-defended among at least seven brands of vaccines that the Philippine government put on the table for consideration.
He said Galvez and Duque III, particularly, both claimed that the country has already secured 25 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine.
“They claimed that we sealed the deal and have a locked-in agreement with Sinovac, and an initial 50,000 doses are already available for our vaccine delivery by Feb. 20 onward.,” said Lacson.
Then, in a seemingly coordinated communication strategy, he said Roque was announcing in a press conference that Sinovac vaccines are the only vaccine available from February to June, and Filipinos cannot be “choosy.”
“When the Senate hearings raised more questions than answers about Sinovac, our officials were both tongue-tied and stuttering, leaving us with a string of flip-flopping pronouncements,” Lacson said.
Lacson and Drilon both asked why government officials are keeping the public in the dark when it comes to price negotiations with Sinovac, when the country’s neighbors can be more transparent about it.
A statement released on Oct.14, 2020 by Indonesia’s state-owned pharmaceutical company put the price of two doses at 200,000 Indonesian rupiah or about $13.57.
Even the Thailand government has been transparent in its negotiations with vaccine developers. Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced last week that their government is acquiring 2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Sinovac.
Based on the infographics posted by the Bangkok Post, Thailand was able to procure the Sinovac at $5 or P240 (P48:US$1) per dose.
But Roque said the Philippines was accorded “the best price” by Sinovac, and that the actual figure would be revealed after the deal with the Chinese vaccine supplier is finalized.
This was the same assurance that Sinovach Biotech general manager, Helen Yang, gave on Monday.
“Definitely we are not the [most] expensive ones because the mission for Sinovac is to provide the vaccine at an affordable price,” Yang said in an interview on CNN-Philippines.
“For [the] Philippines, we committed to provide a favorable price but unfortunately, I’m not in the position to discuss this confidential information at this moment. But I will be assuring you that this is a very good price that we provided to the Philippines,” she added.
The DOH, meanwhile, said the pricing figures it released were “indicative market prices” based on rates published by the different manufacturers and generated for the purpose of estimating the needed budget for the country’s vaccination program. With PNA