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Opinion

Government still won’t disclose vaccine purchase prices

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Executive officials continued to withhold from the public the national government’s purchase prices of COVID-19 vaccines. They gave only price ranges at the Senate inquiry Tuesday.

Invoking nondisclosure agreements with suppliers, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez and Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez declined to detail the prices. “This is a public hearing so we cannot disclose,” both said, adding that they might talk if behind closed doors. The Senate is reviewing the P82.5-billion 2021 mass inoculation budget.

Minority Leader Frank Drilon reminded them that the public will pay for the vaccine procurements and loans. The Constitution requires transparency in public transactions. Commission on Audit scrutiny is fundamental.

Dominguez replied: “It’s a public forum so we cannot give numbers, but if COA wants, it is open to audit.”

He said lenders Asian Development Bank and World Bank won’t release if the vaccines are overpriced, thus a COA audit is a “double check.” A senator remarked that the multilateral institutions have their own rules, but the Constitution binds Filipino officials and agencies.

Three pharmaceutical makers have been contracted so far: Sinovac of China, Gamaleya of Russia and Moderna of the United States.

Dominguez said their prices ranged from $6.75 to $27.59 per dose. He did not specify which seller is lowest or highest, and the quantity. Other price factors are vaccine type (attenuated virus or messenger-RNA), time of order and the country’s paying ability.

Dominguez mentioned two other averages:

• Purchases through borrowings and donations cost the country P398 per dose; purchases alone cost P568 per dose;

•  The price paid out of the 2021 budget was P543 per dose; from loans, P515 per dose.

“Add to that P48 per dose for logistics,” Dominguez said. Meaning cost of cold storage, transporting, distributing, injecting and recording.

The national government has received 12.7 million vaccines as of June 14. Of that number, only half, or 6.68 million, was purchased.

Bulk of the purchases, 6.5 million, was from Sinovac. Another 180,000 was Gamaleya.

The remaining six million or so were donations. A million came from Sinovac. Five million-plus – 2.55 million AstraZeneca of Britain and 2.47 million Pfizer-USA – was under the COVAX Facility/World Health Organization. Two million of the Pfizer doses under COVAX/WHO came from the US government.

In initial Senate reviews in January, Galvez had refused to disclose prices too but promised to tell all when the vaccines start arriving. Senators told him that confidentiality covered only the makers’ proprietary information but not prices. They were incensed that the Department of Health had priced Sinovac at P1,820 per dose, when reports of Thai and Indonesian orders were for only P240-P350. The DOH later said the price it gave Congress for budgeting came only from online postings and not direct inquiries.

Last Tuesday, Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson were more concerned about the slowness of the immunization program. Three-and-a-half months since rollout, only 1.6 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, and 4.3 percent given the first jab.

Senators last January had noted several causes of delay. Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin remarked that DOH “dropped the ball” on ten million Pfizer doses arranged by the US State department. (Health Secretary Francisco Duque denied sitting on the documentation.) President Rody Duterte was also misadvised against making down payments for emergency purchases. Galvez belatedly told Congress to allocate indemnification required by vaccine makers in case of fatal adverse effects.

The new Senate hearings are to consider additional P25 billion to immunize 12-17-year-olds. Lacson will recheck the figures given in January by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases. He will zero in on IATF’s plan to inoculate 70 percent of 83.8 million adults for herd immunity.

Checking with the Philippine Statistics Authority, the projected population by July 1, 2021 is 110 million, Lacson told The STAR yesterday. Sixty-two percent, according to PSA, are adults aged 18 and above, or 68.2 million.

“That’s way below 83.8 million,” he said. “Multiply the difference by the average cost of P446 per dose, it is many billions of pesos more than what is actually needed. It’s a lot of money.”

“I hope the discrepancies are not deliberate,” Lacson said.

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Catch “Sapol” radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

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“Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine Government” is available as e-book and paperback. Get a free copy of “Chapter 1: Beijing’s Bullying and Duplicity”. Simply subscribe to my newsletter at: https://jariusbondoc.com/#subscribe. Book orders also accepted there.

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