"We must demand transparency."
Published reports on the 50-percent efficacy of the government-favored Sinovac Biotech’s vaccine has alarmed several lawmakers, patient groups, and health sector professionals, fueling a now raging issue in both mainstream and social media.
Becoming immune from the COVID-19 vaccine is a matter of life and death. It’s a no brainer that people would prefer to be inoculated with vaccines with the highest efficacies such as AstraZeneca (70 percent), Moderna (94 percent), and Pfizer (95 percent).
Another fact that will not deceive the public no matter what spin is thrown out to media is the high cost of the Chinese vaccine compared to the Western developers that have earned much higher efficacy ratings.
According to studies disclosed by Sen. Sonny Angara, a dose of AstraZeneca’s vaccine can inoculate five Filipinos at P610 per jab versus just one P3,629.50 Sinovac dose. Other alternatives are Johnson and Johnson’s at a low P480, the COVAX program with the World Health Organization is at P854, Novavax even cheaper at P366, and Pfizer’s at P2,379. Considering that the government has only P12.5 billion available cash for vaccine deployment, we don’t need to be a financial expert to see that this not a responsible management of our very limited resources.
The government is poised to borrow P70 billion from bilateral partners, multi-lateral and domestic lenders to fill up the ‘unprogrammed appropriations’ (money the government does not have yet) to fill up the P82.5 billion budget for the government’s vaccination program. We, the taxpayers, will be paying for these gargantuan loans in the next decades.
We’ve heard President Duterte and his spokesperson defending their pro-Chinese vaccine bias and even said that we, the people, should not be “picky” and should just accept the Sinovac shot because it’s the only available until June and even threatened that refusal will cause loss of one’s priority stature.
These issues, and the monopolistic approach of government was rightfully hit in recent Senate hearings. The clear message is that the administration’s “all of government” approach will illogically constrain outcomes from the dynamism and efficient resource mobilization capability inherent in an “all of society” effort powered by the private sector, local governments (LGUs), and civil society raring to initiate vaccination programs, without burdening government resources.
Sen. Grace Poe together with many Senators from both sides of the majority and minority blocs have expressed wonderment, and suspicion of a hidden motivation behind the administration’s insistent endorsement of the Sinovac vaccine.
Senator Poe said, “Questions still linger in the people’s minds as to why the government sealed an agreement with Sinovac when its not FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved.”
“The Filipino people have every right to choose which vaccine to take, it is their money the government is spending to procure the precious doses,” Sen. Grace Poe said.
Not without enraged reactions from every sector of society, the government re-spinned the narrative saying that LGUs can go ahead with their vaccine procurement and assured that a “fair mix” of safe vaccines will be purchased as soon as possible. Also announced was the first batch of 50,000 Sinovac vaccines arriving in February purchased at a “best friend forever” price but could not be disclosed citing a non-disclosure agreement. As taxpayers who will be burdened for the next twenty years, we have a right to know the details of this Sinovac purchase.
Health advocacy groups CitizenWatch Philippines, Philippine Association of Patient Organizations, and HealthJustice Philippines issued a strong joint statement calling for fast, safe, and full vaccine deployment finding the government’s 4-year timeline too protracted. The coalition also called for a fair and equitable prioritization plan and emphasized that roll-out should first be in regions with the highest infection rates which are also the most productive economic drivers of the country.
They urged the government to partner with the private sector which has continuously delivered effective anti-COVID initiatives. Recently recognized by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III are the continuing interventions of big business groups led by the Zobel brothers, Manuel V. Pangilinan, and Joey Concepcion in setting up the cold storage chain facilities required for the vaccines.
The health groups further called for extensive information campaigns to neutralize dangerous and baseless misconceptions causing fears of vaccines resulting in more infections and deaths and derail economic recovery.
As a consumer advocate and most of all, as a father, securing the health and well-being of family is THE PRIORITY. The vaccine is a proven weapon of science that for over two centuries of its history, has saved billions of lives from the world’s deadliest diseases. Ending the great suffering of this pandemic depends on how fast we achieve herd immunity.
We must be vigilant and demand transparency. Heartless instigators of acts that will only serve corrupt agendas will not be tolerated.