Lacson: Who gave DOH high Sinovac price?
Sen. Panfilo Lacson made known his wish yesterday as he described as “totally unacceptable” the explanation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III at a hearing last week that they “Googled” the price of CoronaVac vaccines made by the Beijing-based private firm Sinovac Biotech.
AFP/Nelson Almeida

Lacson: Who gave DOH high Sinovac price?

Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - January 26, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Panfilo Lacson wants to know who fed the Department of Health the information about the price of Sinovac vaccines in the Philippines, which he said turned out to be “unreasonably high” and may have been shared with the DOH in an attempt to make money from the government’s procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.

Lacson made known his wish yesterday as he described as “totally unacceptable” the explanation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III at a hearing last week that they “Googled” the price of CoronaVac vaccines made by the Beijing-based private firm Sinovac Biotech.

The Senate held a hearing last week on the Duterte administration’s mass vaccination program.

“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,” Lacson said.

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 Lacson’s office.

“This (price) 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,” he said.

He said senators as well as the public became suspicious when vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. refused to divulge prices of Sinovac vaccines some days ago, while presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said at a press briefing in Malacañang that the public cannot afford to be choosy and that only Sinovac would be available from February to June this year.

Lacson, in his privilege speech last week, said had not the Senate conducted an inquiry into the vaccination program and pressed officials of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease for details, the country may have lost as much as P16.8 billion in taxpayers’ money to unscrupulous individuals.

He said Indonesia and Thailand were able to acquire CoronaVac at P683.30 and P240 per dose in their peso equivalent, compared to the P1,814.75 per injection of the same serum or P3,629 for two doses based on the price provided by the DOH to the Senate committee on finance last year.

He said based on the testimonies of Duque and Galvez, the government is negotiating with Sinovac for the procurement of some 25 million doses of CoronaVac.

“Easily, I am reminded of an old story of how corruption is committed in three Southeast Asian countries – under the table, on the table, including the table,” the senator said in his speech.

Meanwhile, Lacson said while Senate President Vicente Sotto III may have a point in stating the benefits of allowing other countries to be ahead in the vaccinations, the Philippines also cannot afford to be too late in the inoculation rollout, citing its adverse effect on the economy.

“If we are late in inoculating our people, the economy will suffer. This is amid projections the Philippines will be the last to recover economically from the pandemic,” he said.

Herd immunity by yearend?

For the Department of Finance (DOF), the government would be able to complete the vaccination of a “majority” of Filipinos against COVID-19 by the end of the year, or enough to enable the Philippines to reach herd immunity.

In an interview with business news channel CNBC, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the Philippines is scheduled to receive the initial batch of coronavirus vaccines by next month.

“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, the initial doses,” Dominguez said.

The government has allocated a total of P82.5 billion to fund the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program. According to the DOF, P2.5 billion of the amount would be charged against the 2021 budget of the DOH, while P10 billion would come from the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act (Bayanihan 2) funds.

The remaining P70 billion would be sourced from loans provided by multilateral lenders, the Philippines’ bilateral partners and the domestic market.

The finance chief reiterated that Filipinos below 18 years old would not be included in the inoculation efforts, upon recommendation of medical authorities.

“We have around 40 million who are below 18 years old. So that leaves us with 70 million Filipinos to be vaccinated,” he said.

Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said at an online briefing that LGUs must coordinate with the national government to ensure efficient and equitable distribution of vaccines in the country.

“The LGUs cannot buy directly (from manufacturers) without coordinating with the national government. That’s why we have a tripartite agreement. The national government must know how many are released to one LGU to (ensure) the proportionate distribution,” he said.

Avisado also said the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) may realign its budget to fund the hiring of 50,000 COVID-19 contact tracers.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bong Go appealed for unity among the country’s top officials to help build even more the confidence of Filipinos in the COVID-19 vaccine roadmap.

“Many hours have been wasted on doubt and it is taking its toll on our vaccine program. Pity the frontliners. Pity our poor countrymen,” Go said.

“I am just begging – for the sake of all Filipinos – to unite. We have only one goal and that is to overcome the pandemic and lift our countrymen out of poverty,” he stressed. – Cecille Suerte Felipe

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