Sinovac told to send representative to Senate hearing, address publicâs concerns
Sen. Risa Hontiveros during a hybrid plenary session on November 19, 2020.
Albert Calvelo/Senate PRIB

Sinovac told to send representative to Senate hearing, address public’s concerns

Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - January 21, 2021 - 4:38pm

MANILA, Philippines — A representative from China's Sinovac Biotech must be present to field questions about its vaccine during the next Senate hearing on the national inoculation program, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said.

“We want to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth because so many of our questions remain unanswered," Hontiveros said, listing several concerns in Filipino: "Why is the data still incomplete? Why are efficacy rates varying? What are the side effects?"

She also rehashed a long-standing concern held by many senators over the contradictory statements made by top officials overseeing the country's inoculation effort.

"Their acting as medrep for Sinovac just makes us question the integrity of their statements," Hontiveros said partially in Filipino. "I want to hear from the pharmaceutical [company] itself," she added, calling Sinovac's presence at the hearings "long overdue."

Last Friday's hearing centered mostly on the government's acquisition of 25 million doses of Sinovac's vaccine, which senators fear is less effective yet more expensive than its counterparts.

No decisive data has been released by Sinovac on the efficacy of its jab — which was cleared for local clinical trials by the FDA on Tuesday.

Its price has also been the subject of heated contention between senators and Cabinet members, with the ballpark amount remaining unclear for weeks until Malacañang and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. finally disclosed that the cost would not be much different from the P650 offered to Indonesia and would not be more than P700.

Hontiveros: Sinovac must address bribery allegations 

The senator also flagged reports of Sinovac's history of bribing drug regulators, noting that such allegations further deter the public's trust in the government's transactions with the manufacturer.

READ: Philippines to probe bribery claims vs Chinese drugmaker Sinovac

For Hontiveros, the Senate cannot simply let go of the P74 billion in taxpayer money budgeted for vaccines until these concerns have been allayed.

"As long as Sinovac itself does not confront us, as long as their data is lacking, the Senate, in conscience, should not allow a single peso to be spent on Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine, especially if they fail to satisfactorily present convincing information about its safety," she said partially in Filipino.

Senators meet with Galvez ahead of hearing

In an effort to clear the air before the proceedings, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he, Senate President Tito Sotto and Sen. Ronald dela Rosa on Wednesday met with contact tracing czar Benjamin Magalong and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. who issued the invitation.

"Sec. Galvez's briefing clarified a lot of issues and concerns raised by the senators that have remained unresolved until last night," Lacson said Thursday. "We advised him to explain in tomorrow's hearing the same way that he did last night, without violating the terms of the agreement with the vaccine suppliers."

Both presidential spokesman Harry Roque and Galvez have said that they were bound by confidentiality disclosure agreements and unable to reveal the exact price of any of the vaccines being purchased by the Philippines.

"We were shown the documents. And we have no doubt about Sec. Galvez's integrity and his sincerity to accomplish his task," Lacson also said, less than a week after calling out Galvez for contradicting himself and casting a "shadow of doubt" on the government's inoculation effort in his refusal to disclose vaccine prices.

But Hontiveros emphasized that "the Filipino people are not convinced."

"Let us not gamble with the money and the safety of the people. If we are to buy Sinovac, they must prove to us that their vaccine is worth our money and effort," she said in Filipino.

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