Government urged: Bare vaccine deals, prices
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson yesterday renewed calls for transparency from the government ahead of the inquiry of the Senate committee of the whole to press for a full accounting of the P82.5 billion granted by Congress last year for vaccine procurement.

Government urged: Bare vaccine deals, prices

Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - June 15, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Senators are asking the Duterte administration to fully disclose supply contracts the Philippines has signed with COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers as well as how much the country has borrowed so far to pay for the jabs, not counting those procured by the private sector and local government units (LGUs).

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson yesterday renewed calls for transparency from the government ahead of the inquiry of the Senate committee of the whole to press for a full accounting of the P82.5 billion granted by Congress last year for vaccine procurement.

Today’s reconvening of the panel, chaired by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, was triggered by Malacañang’s request for an additional P25 billion this year, and another P55 billion in 2022, to purchase more vaccines despite the private sector and LGUs procuring additional doses, and the arrival of more donated serums from the World Health Organization-run COVAX Facility.

“I request (vaccine czar) Secretary (Carlito) Galvez and (Health) Secretary (Francisco) Duque III to send to us the supply agreements that were signed already. These are not confidential, these are public records,” Drilon told Teleradyo.

He said the government cannot invoke non-disclosure agreements in refusing to bare the contracts as taxpayers’ money was used to pay for the vaccines.

The Commission on Audit will audit the purchases eventually and so “they cannot hide it,” he said.

“Filipinos need to know that we have a steady supply of vaccines. (The vaccines are arriving slowly). They need to know the price of the vaccines, because, ultimately, it is the taxpayers that will pay for the vaccines. It is the public’s right to know,” Drilon said.

At a briefing, National Task Force against COVID-19 deputy chief implementer Vince Dizon said the administration is ready to release details of the budget for pandemic response.

“Transparency is really important. And the national government agencies will be presenting the breakdown of the budget and how it has been utilized, released and utilized, tomorrow (June 15) at the Senate committee of the whole hearing,” Dizon said.

“Definitely, we support calls for transparency and we will be very transparent,” he added.

Dizon claimed that the budget department has not sought an additional P25 billion for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.

“I don’t think the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) had made any request for an additional P25 billion. I just want to clarify that,” he said.

In a report submitted to the Senate last June, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) claimed that the government is able to secure an indicative total of 147 million doses from vaccine manufacturers and the COVAX Facility.

This will be on top of around 24.9 million doses procured by the private sector and LGUs and one million doses donated by the Chinese government.

Focus on Sinovac

Lacson said he wants to find out how much the government has borrowed so far to pay for the vaccines even as he noted that the administration appears to prefer only one brand: CoronaVac, made by Beijing-based Sinovac Biotech.

The 2021 General Appropriations Act earmarked P72.5 billion for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines. However, only P2.5 billion, out of the P72.5 billion, is funded. The remaining P70 billion is part of the unprogrammed funds. Another P10 billion is allocated under the Bayanihan 2 law, putting the total COVID-19 vaccine budget at P82.5 billion.

IATF officials told the Senate all-member committee last January that the amount would pay for the vaccination of some 70 million Filipinos to achieve herd immunity. Galvez also told the panel in January that some 144 million doses of vaccines of various brands are expected to arrive this year.

“How much of the P82.5 billion came from borrowings? We keep using the vaccinations as justification to borrow,” Lacson told “Headstart” on ANC.

He said his rough calculation indicated that some 35 million to 40 million Filipinos can be vaccinated with doses from COVAX, LGUs and the private sector – or about half of the target for herd immunity.

Lacson said other brands – Astra Zeneca, Moderna, Pfizer, Sputnik – have been procured by the private sector and LGUs or have arrived through COVAX and other donation agreements, and it appears that CoronaVac appears to form bulk of the administration’s vaccine procurement funded through loans.

Sen. Joel Villanueva also sought more transparency, particularly in “the price per dose and how much the minimum 140 million doses would cost.”

If securing vaccines requires prepayment, then the government should adopt a “multi-year budgeting approach, and not rely on annualized financing,” Villanueva said in a statement.

“What is important is that we have a big picture of our amortization schedule, so to speak. We can’t do this piecemeal nor put all these funds in one fiscal year,” he said.

But in calculating the total vaccination cost, price per dose is the key baseline data, he said.

Report before replenish

Villanueva said the executive branch must provide these data to Congress if it wants its request to add P25 billion to its current year’s P82.5-billion vaccination budget acted upon immediately.

“The rule is that they must report first before we replenish,” Villanueva said, adding the government must also report whether the P58.4 billion borrowed from multilateral lenders to procure vaccines was fully obligated or spent.

“The most important question is how fast will the additional funding plug our huge vaccine deficit?” he said.

He said there is a wide gap between vaccine supply projections and actual delivery, citing this month’s slippage, from the forecast of “7.8 million doses to 3.4 million doses.”

He warned if the recent daily average of 112,621 jabs does not go up, it would take about three years and two months to fully vaccinate 70 million, for the country to attain herd immunity.

If the target is 100 percent vaccination, it would take an additional one and a half years or end of 2025 before that is achieved, he said.

If the vaccination is downsized to 58 million under the administration’s “population protection strategy” in lieu of herd immunity, the country must have 116 million doses this year, Villanueva said. — Alexis Romero

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