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Palace: Sinovac vaccine price ânot farâ from P650
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque claimed the price of the Sinovac vaccines being purchased by the government is not far from the P650 per dose offered to Indonesia.
AFP/Nelson Almeida

Palace: Sinovac vaccine price ‘not far’ from P650

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - January 18, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang yesterday denied that the vaccine developed by Sinovac costs P3,600 per dose, as it stood by its decision to buy from the Chinese drug maker despite claims that the government is settling for a more expensive yet less effective COVID-19 vaccine.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque claimed the price of the Sinovac vaccines being purchased by the government is not far from the P650 per dose offered to Indonesia.

“What I can assure you is, the claim that China is charging P3,600 per dose is fake news. While I cannot announce the price of Sinovac (vaccines), it’s not far from the price given to Indonesia, which is about P650 per dose,” Roque told radio station dzBB.

The Philippines has secured 25 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine – even as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to grant Sinovac an emergency use authorization (EUA) – with the first 50,000 doses expected to arrive in February.

Some sectors have questioned the government’s decision to buy shots from the Chinese firm, saying the vaccines are less effective and more costly compared to those developed by western manufacturers like Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

Sinovac’s vaccine demonstrated an efficacy rate of 50.4 percent in late-stage trials in Brazil, barely meeting the minimum requirement set by the World Health Organization and lower than those manufactured by western firms. Malacañang, however, has vouched for the efficacy of the Chinese vaccine, saying it was found to be 91.25 percent effective in Turkey and Indonesia.

Data released recently by Sen. Sonny Angara showed that the price of the Sinovac vaccine is P3,629 for two doses, higher than those of Pfizer-BioNTech at P2,379, Gamaleya at P1,220, COVAX Facility at P854, AstraZeneca at P610, and Novavax at P366.

Roque has disputed this, saying Sinovac is “third from the most expensive out of the six brands” and that the shots were sold at a special price because of the close relationship between the Philippines and China.

Angara has said that the vaccine prices were provided by the Department of Health (DOH) to his office and to the Senate finance committee during budget deliberations last November.

Roque said he could not announce how much the government is spending for the Sinovac vaccines because the prices vary and are dependent on who would buy the shots.

“China is not like capitalist companies that are market dictated. China can change the prices... it depends on who will buy. That’s the reason why China does not want it announced because others who are not their BFF (best friends forever) and who are paying higher prices may get angry,” the Palace spokesman said.

Roque shrugged off the criticisms of senators who are urging the administration to reconsider its decision to buy Sinovac vaccines.

“What the President said was they can say what they want to say. In the end, it is the President that is ultimately responsible to the people. Fake news will come out, in the end, it will be implemented by the President because it is good for the people,” Roque said.

“He said the buck stops with him, he has full responsibility and he won’t allow the people to be at risk because of vaccines. The President will ensure that everything that will be given to our countrymen will save lives and will not put our fellow Filipinos at risk,” he added.

Senators are reportedly planning to conduct another hearing on the government’s vaccination program.

Roque reiterated that the public won’t be forced to receive vaccines but maintained that inoculation is important because the new COVID-19 variant is more infectious.

“Why wait for the vaccine that will arrive at the end of the year? If the normal variant is infectious, the new one is more infectious. Why gamble on our health when a protection is already available?” he said.

Possible corruption?

Large differences in the prices of COVID-19 vaccines in the Philippines and in other countries could indicate corruption in the government’s procurement of the serums made by Sinovac, Sen. Panfilo Lacson warned yesterday.

He noted that while COVID-19 vaccines may cost as little as $5 or about P240 per dose, it may cost as much as $38 or more than P1,800 in the Philippines.

However, the senator said if it is true the government is dropping the price of Sinovac vaccines to only P650 per dose, the Senate may have done its share to save billions of pesos in the government’s vaccination efforts.

“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 billions of pesos… Netizens can pat themselves on the back,” Lacson posted on Twitter.

He cited a Bangkok Post news article dated Jan. 16, where the World Health Organization and manufacturers indicated the price of Sinovac was at only $5 per dose.

However, during deliberations last November on the proposed budget of DOH for 2021, officials told the Senate committee on finance that Sinovac’s vaccine is priced P3,629.50 for two doses.

He said COVID-19 vaccines may cost $38.50 or P1,847.25 per dose in the Philippines, but is covered by a confidentiality disclosure agreement between Sinovac and the government.

During the hearings of the Senate committee of the whole last week, he also noted implementers of the vaccination program apparently showed preference for privately owned Sinovac – which may fuel speculations that corruption is involved in the government’s dealings with the company.

While Malacañang officials previously stressed that a government-to-government arrangement is being pursued in procuring the serums, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. admitted he was dealing directly with an executive of Sinovac Ltd. in Hong Kong.

“Sinovac has a track record of bribery, yet why insist on dealing with them?” Lacson asked in an interview on dwIZ on Saturday. “Considering all these, can we blame the lawmakers and even our countrymen why they express suspicion in the government’s vaccination program?”

Meanwhile, the government can say goodbye to its hopes for the country to recover from recession in 2021 if it fails to meet the timetable and targets set for the mass vaccination program for COVID-19 until the third quarter of the year, Sen. Cynthia Villar said.

At the inquiry of the Senate committee of the whole into the Duterte administration’s mass vaccination plan last week, Villar asked officials of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to push harder in rolling out the inoculation program as many other countries have theirs already underway.

“We must gain a big headway in the first quarter so the economy can go on, so the effect on the economy and employment will be reduced,” Villar, who chairs the Senate agriculture and food committee, told IATF officials during the hearing.

“If we wait until the third quarter, we won’t be able to reach our growth projections for 2021,” she said. – Paolo Romero

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