Shadow of doubt’: Galvez accused of contradicting himself on vaccine prices

AdChoiceTV News — Sen. Ping Lacson on Friday sounded the alarm over the vaccine czar making contravening statements on the prices of the COVID-19 jabs being acquired by the government amid fears that the country is purchasing less effective vaccines at a higher cost.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr.

Lacson pointed out that senators on Monday asked vaccine czar Carlito Galvez. Jr. to explain why the country was not procuring vaccines at a much lower cost, citing biotech companies such as AstraZeneca, which has said that it will sell its jabs to low-income countries at not-for-profit prices.

Secretary Galvez was quick to disagree, saying that there are two sets of prices: the commercial price and the COVAX price,” Lacson said as the Senate resumed its hearing on the national inoculation plan against COVID-19.

“The COVAX price is very, very low. What we are negotiating is not the COVAX price,” he quotes Galvez as saying.

The COVAX facility is a platform set up to ensure that those in greatest need have access to COVID-19 jabs. Under COVAX, COVID-19 vaccines will be initially delivered equally to all participating countries, initially prioritizing health care workers then expanding to cover 20% of the population. Further doses will then be made available based on a country’s needs, vulnerability and coronavirus threat.

But, on Wednesday, news broke that China’s Sinovac, which the government has purchased 25 million doses of, proved only 50% effective in Brazil, barely meeting the threshold of 50% to 60% set by global authorities. This caused senators to question the purchase of Sinovac’s jabs which health department data, given to Sen. Sonny Angara’s office in November, bears out to be the second most expensive of the vaccines being acquired by the Philippines.

Lacson also presented comparative data on the vaccine prices which cites both Angara’s office and reporting by BBC News. He said the Sinovac vaccine’s “price ranges from a low of US$ 13.60 to a high of US$ 29.75, or from P680 to P1,487.50 per dosage as reported by several reliable sources.”

“The office of Senator Angara, for example, with data provided by the Department of Health, pegs the cost of Sinovac at P3,629.50 for two doses. Undeniably, data shows that Sinovac ranks as the second most expensive vaccine in the market,” the senator said.

Screenshot/Office of Sen. Ping Lacson

However, just two days later, when the steep prices of [the Sinovac vaccine] stirred public outcry, [Galvez] cautioned the people not to believe those who say it, as these are market prices. In what appears to be a brazen contradiction of himself, he now claims that the government is negotiating with vaccine makers at the more affordable COVAX prices,” Lacson said.

The senator cited an interview given by Galvez over state-run PTV, where the vaccine czar, in response to criticism of the government’s decision to purchase the Sinovac vaccines which many believe to be less effective and more expensive, said that purchasing jabs through the COVAX facility would decrease them by as much as 300%.

“If I still remember what my mathematics professor taught us many years ago, with a 300% decrease in price, we can demand a rebate equivalent to 200%,” Lacson said.

“If this is the discount…let us buy P5 trillion worth of vaccines and charge them P10 trillion rebate so we can pay for our national debt which reached P10.13 trillion as of November last year,” he added in Filipino.

Lacson also pointed out the improbability that Galvez was acquiring Sinovac from COVAX as if it is not yet in the facility’s portfolio.

“[I]t appears our initial locked-in agreement with Sinovac comprising 25 million doses will not be covered by the ludicrous 300% markdown as the COVAX facility only has this agreement for early rollout in February with Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine of a limited quantity,” he said.

The senator added that COVAX has secured agreements with AstraZeneca and Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi-GSK, but noted “no mention of Sinovac.”

“To our dreadful surprise, it may be too late now to backpedal from our Sinovac deal since 50,000 doses are already set to be delivered on February 20. Notwithstanding the lack of Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of Sinovac in the Philippines, and even in China, its country of origin, Secretary Galvez is positive that we will have a roll-out of the vaccine next month and onwards,” he said.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, while assuring the public that the Sinovac vaccine would not be rolled out for emergency use unless it receives regulatory approval, endorsed the Chinese-made vaccines as his personal preference for COVID-19 jabs.

“Over the past few weeks, we all learned that talk is cheap and nothing more than verifiable data can speak of the truth. When public officials hide under the cloud of secrecy, confidentiality, and motherhood statements, we cast a shadow of doubt over matters of national interest and lose sight of our health agenda amid this global pandemic,” Lacson said.

“Lest we forget…in the course of this public inquiry, what hangs in the balance is the life and welfare of every Filipino, no more no less.” — via Albert Rovic Tan / AdChoiceTV News

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