How much does a dose of the COVID-19 Sinovac vaccine cost?
It depends, says Senator Panfilo Lacson, noting that it could be $5, $14 or $38 depending on where it is being bought.
A report in the Bangkok Post dated Jan. 16 that cited figures from the World Health Organization and manufacturers indicated that the price of Sinovac was only $5 per dose. A report in the Jakarta Post, meanwhile, said the Chinese vaccine would cost about $7 per dose.
However, during the budget deliberations in November 2020, the Department of Health (DOH) provided the Senate committee on finance data that showed Sinovac priced at P3,629.50 for two doses, or about $38 a dose.
In fact, data submitted by the DOH to the Senate two months ago showed that Sinovac’s vaccine was the second most expensive (P3,629) behind Moderna (P3,904 to P4,504). By way of comparison, Novovax (P366), AstraZeneca (P610), Gamaleya (P1,220) and Pfizer (P2,379) are all significantly less expensive.
Adding to the confusion, a Palace spokesman said this week that the Chinese vaccine will only cost about P650 or about $13 a dose.
What are we to make of these drastic price discrepancies?
Like the DOH, however, the spokesman says the actual price cannot be disclosed because of a confidentiality disclosure agreement—a restriction that seems unreasonable given that the vaccines will be bought using public funds or loans that taxpayers will eventually have to shoulder.
On top of this, the decision to buy one vaccine over another could have major health implications given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. After all, if all other factors are equal, more people can be inoculated with a cheaper vaccine than an expensive one, so those hefty price differences matter.
But in the absence of hard data—and stymied by non-disclosure agreements—the public may conclude, rightly or wrongly, that some form of corruption may be involved in our vaccine purchases.
This is problematic given the already high distrust among Filipinos for vaccination in general, a suspicion no doubt amplified by the Dengvaxia scare a few years ago. One recent Pulse Asia survey, for example, showed that 47 percent or nearly half of the respondents said they do not want to be vaccinated.
In such an environment, more, not less transparency should be the rule—and that includes how much we are going to pay for the shots in our arms.