Sotto: Duque, Galvez not involved in vaccine pricing

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    SENATE President Vicente Sotto III yesterday said he believes that vaccine czar Carlito Galvez and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III had nothing to do with an alleged attempt to jack up prices of COVID-19 vaccines to be procured by the government.

    He said the two were not involved in the pricing of the vaccines being sourced from foreign firms, based on information he gathered during the third and last hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole, held on Friday last week, on the government’s vaccine program.

    Suspicions of overpricing arose after Galvez and government officials refused to disclose the price of the vaccine being procured from Sinovac, a private Chinese firm. Galvez invoked a confidentiality agreement with Sinovac despite reports in other countries on what the vaccine cost, and which was much lower than what was stated in a price list submitted by the Department of Health to the Senate last year.

    Duque, during the Friday hearing, said the DOH “googled” the prices of COVID-19 vaccines, and this was the list submitted to the Senate.

    In the list, the Sinovac vaccine is the second most expensive, with a price tag of P3,629 for two doses.

    Sotto said the list was used by senators to compare the prices of vaccines.

    Sotto earlier said that he, Senators Panfilo Lacson and Ronald dela Rosa, and Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong met with Galvez before the last hearing, during which Galvez explained of the need to strictly adhere to the non-disclosure agreement with vaccine makers.

    Galvez also reportedly said the price of the Sinovac vaccine is well within the P600 range per dose, not P3,600 for two doses as stated in the DOH’s googled prices.

    Lacson yesterday said Duque’s explanation that the Sinovac price was googled “is not totally acceptable.

    “Unverified reports that some shenanigans working behind the scene might have fed the DOH the unreasonably high price of the Sinovac vaccine could lend credence to the attempt to dupe the Filipino taxpayers even during a pandemic,” he said.

    “As early as Oct. 14, 2020, it was reported that the price of Sinovac vaccines in Indonesia was about P683. There is also a price range of P650 to P700 per dose that was relayed to us. This is quite far from the P3,629.50 submitted by the DOH to the Senate finance committee in December last year for the 2021 budget deliberations,” Lacson added.

    He also noted many senators also became suspicious when at the time Galvez refused to divulge the price of Sinovac vaccines, presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. was holding a press briefing in Malacañang where he said the public cannot afford to be “choosy” and that only Sinovac vaccines would be available from February to June this year.

    The government is buying 148 million doses of vaccines from seven pharmaceutical firms to cover around 70 million Filipinos, with the first batch of vaccines expected to arrive next month.

    Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said majority of the population could have been vaccinated by the end of this year.

    In an interview with CNBC, he said the government aims to vaccinate 70 million Filipinos, partly with the help of local government units (LGUs) and the private sector.

    “Probably by the end of this year we should have vaccinated the majority of the people, because the vaccines are scheduled to arrive in February,” he said. “We have a large population that is below 18 years old, and that is not recommended for vaccination. We have a total of 110 million people, and we have around 40 million who are below 18, and the medical authorities do not recommend them to be vaccinated. So that leaves us with 70 million Filipinos to be vaccinated,” he added. – With Angela Lorraine Celis and Jocelyn Montemayor