POSTSCRIPT / December 17, 2020 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Choosing a vaccine a political decision?

JUST when we thought the British-Swedish pharma firm AstraZeneca has stolen a march on its rivals, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said Monday a bigger delivery of 25 million doses is due in March from Sinovac Biotech of China.

If only to satisfy public curiosity, Galvez should tell the public exactly who issued the order that the vaccine stock be taken from China instead of his saying in a general way that “the Philippines” or the government will source the vaccine from wherever.

An explanation is in order because Sinovac vaccine is allegedly six times more expensive than AstraZeneca aside from its skipping the required clinical trials and its not yet being issued – like the other vaccines — an EUA (emergency use authorization) by the Food and Drug Administration.

We have seen various posted prices for the vaccines. One price list (for two doses per person) reads: Novavax, P366 per 2 doses; AstraZeneca, P610; Covax facility, P854; Sputnik V, P1,220; Pfizer, P2,379; Moderna, P3,904-P4,504; and SinoVac, P3,629.50.

Sourced by Rappler from the office of Sen. Sonny Angara, above prices include value-added tax and contingency for 10-percent “inflation”, which looks to us like a catch-all term to take care of any rise in the quoted price.

That P3,629.50 price of Sinovac, if true, is an ocean away from the price quoted in the last ASEAN Brief that said: “Indonesia has started vaccinations with over nine million doses being given to front line workers. China’s Sinovac is in discussions with Indonesia to provide supplies, however, the government faces difficulties with a large population of 268 million and price sensitivity at Sinovac’s estimated costs at US$20 a dose.” (At P48.50 to the US dollar, $20×2 doses equals P1,940, not P3,629.50.)

Whoever decides to buy the SinoVac vaccine at P3,629.50 for two doses may qualify for being dragged down the street, a variation of Duterte’s style of public shaming, if he does not spit out the apparent overprice or commission.

It could turn out, however, that the Sinovac vaccines are being given to Filipinos for free, or at a hefty discount, but then the question arises: What is the quid pro quo, considering that there is no such thing as a free siopao?

A full and honest disclosure should be required from whoever is behind this unusual transaction to demolish the ugly suspicion of an overprice.

Who really makes the decisions in the already-delayed mass vaccination program? Is it General Galvez, since he is called “vaccine czar”, or Health Secretary Francisco Duque by virtue of his office, or actually President Duterte himself?

Is the choice of a vaccine for mass inoculation to be based on scientific data, market forces, political considerations, or all of the above?

We have to know who is stirring the vaccine soup not only to pinpoint accountability in the event we get an upset stomach, but also to know who to thank when we survive the raging pandemic that has infected more than 450,000 Filipinos and killed at least 8,860.

Some of our neighbors are already primed for an early, orderly vaccination, while we are still busy debating which vaccine to take, how to pay for it, and the manner of taking delivery of the heat-sensitive serum and distributing it safely, quickly and on time.

While we watch other countries placing orders with a sense of urgency, the Philippines seems to linger as if waiting till prices drop as in a clearance sale or for somebody to offer to pay for our vaccine. But President Duterte himself said not to worry, we have money.

Where have our taxes gone? What happened to the billions in grants and loans that have come our way over the past four years? Will the people ever get an honest accounting considering that crooks in government cover up for one another?

The other day, Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. said on Twitter that we had been assured of getting 10 million doses of Pfizer vaccines by January until “somebody dropped the ball”. The vaccines, he said, were to be financed by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

He said: “That said my thanks just the same to US Sec of State Mike Pompeo we –(Philippine Ambassador to the US) Babe Romualdez and I – got 10 million doses of Pfizer financed by World Bank and ADB to be shipped thru FEDEX to Clark in January. BUT SOMEBODY DROPPED THE BALL. I have steel ball bearings. I just need a slingshot.”

It would be interesting to hear Locsin identify who dropped the ball (in all caps!) and then oblige to display those alleged steel ball bearings.

To the Twitter post of former elections commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal that the Philippines seemed to have “acted too late” in finalizing vaccine deals, Locsin replied: “No. We did not miss the bus because we were slow to act. Babe and I were fast. Offers poured in. But there are none so slow as those who never had the intention to catch the bus.”

Also on Twitter, the Chinese embassy said Sinovac Biotech would provide 25 million doses of its vaccines to the Philippines by March.

We wish all vaccine sources would clarify what they mean by “provide”. Are they selling or donating the vaccine to the Philippines? If they are selling, at what price? If donating, in exchange for what?

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 17, 2020)

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