Leni on vaccine cost: Public has right to know

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    BY WENDELL VIGILIA and RAYMOND AFRICA

    VICE President Leni Robredo yesterday pressed Malacañang to reveal the cost of vaccines from Sinovac Biotech Ltd, saying the public has the right to know because taxpayers’ money will be used in the purchase.

    Sinovac is a private Chinese company whose vaccine reportedly costs a lot more than those produced by other foreign firms like Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. of the US, the UK’s AstraZeneca PLC, and the Chinese state-owned firm

    China National Pharmaceutical Group Corp. which is also known as Sinopharm.

    Congress has allocated P72.5 billion for the purchase, storage, transportation and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines under the 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA or the annual national budget) signed by President Duterte last month. Another P2 billion has been earmarked for the purchase of personal protective equipment or PPE to ensure that health workers are safe as they carry out their duty of saving every patient from the virus.

    The cost of the vaccines is among issues to be discussed during a House hearing scheduled today.

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who has asked if the government is giving preference to Sinovac, yesterday said he smells corruption in the pricing of Sinovac in the country, based on the vaccine’s prices in other countries.

    Robredo, citing data from the Department of Health, said Sinovac’s vaccine will be the second most expensive vaccine at around P3,600 per dose next to the one developed by Moderna which is priced at P3,900 to P4,500.

    “If it (vaccines) will be procured through a loan or will be paid under the GAA or the taxpayers’ money, we all have the right to ask how much,” Robredo said in Filipino in her weekly radio program.

    Robredo said the Executive also has to explain its preference for Chinese vaccines even despite the low efficacy rate — 50 percent for Sinovac and 79 percent for Sinopharm – because the people have right to choose which vaccines will be used on them.

    “It’s not more expensive because it has a high efficacy rate because in fact, among all the options, it has the lowest efficacy rate,” said the Vice President, the leader of the opposition.

    She said the public has to be reminded that getting vaccinated is not a privilege “because it is a right and we can demand.”

    “And part of that right is the right to question which vaccine will be used on your body,” Robredo said.

    Lacson, suspecting corruption, cited a January 16 news article in the Bangkok Post which said the Sinovac vaccine costs as little as $5 per dose, while it may costs as much as $38 (roughly P1,800) per dose in the Philippines.

    Lacson said the $38 per dose price of the Sinovac vaccine was also mentioned by the Department of Health during its budget deliberations last November when it provided the Senate committee on finance the different prices for available vaccines. The DOH said Sinovac costs P3,629.50 for two doses.

    “The difference in prices of Sinovac vaccine at US$5, US$14 and US$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 in a post on his Twitter account.

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

    “If it’s true that government is now dropping the price of Sinovac vaccine from P1,847.25 per dose to only P650, the Senate has probably done our share to save our people’s billions of pesos in the country’s vaccination program. Netizens can pat themselves on the back,” he added.

    During the hearings of the Senate Committee of the Whole last week, Lacson also noted that the implementers of the government’s vaccination program apparently showed preference for Sinovac.

    This, he said, may fuel speculations that corruption is involved in the government’s dealings with Sinovac, since the vaccine manufacturer has a record of bribery.

    The Washington Post on December 4 reported that Sinovac Biotech was found to have a record of bribing Chinese drug regulators to secure vaccine approvals. Citing court records, Washington Post said Sinovac’s CEO allegedly gave out payments to receive speedy approvals for their SARS vaccine in 2003 and swine flu vaccine back in 2009. However, the Washington Post said there is no evidence the vaccines involved in the bribery issue were faulty.

    Lacson said the government cannot blame the people for doubting the government’s vaccination program.

    “Considering all these, can we blame the lawmakers and even our countrymen why they express suspicion in the government’s vaccination program?” Lacson added.

    Sinovac is expected to have a mini rollout of 50,000 vaccines in the country in February.

    The Philippines is set to purchase 25 million doses of Sinovac from China which is part of the 148 million doses of vaccine that the country intends to purchase this year.

    Galvez and and presidential spokesman Harry Roque, in separate radio interviews, said Sinovac is cheaper than the P3,000 rates that had been circulating in social media.

    Roque said the price in Indonesia is around P650 per dose while Galvez said the P3,000 rate apples to Sinopharm.

    Galvez said the Philippines is a signatory to a non-disclosure agreement that also covered the price of the vaccine in public. He said the government has not yet paid for the Chinese order.

    Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told President Duterte, during his courtesy call on Saturday night, said China is donating 500,0000 vaccines to the Philippines. It was unclear which vaccines.

    Sinovac applied for emergency use authorization with the FDA last week.

    Pfizer has been given the EUA while AstraZeneca’s application is under evaluation. – With Jocelyn Montemayor