PASIG CITY – The vaccine prices that the Philippine government is currently negotiating with the vaccine manufacturers are lower than the prevailing market price, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. assured following the queries during Friday’s Senate hearing.
“I can assure you that the price of Indonesia and the price of the others will be almost, hindi po nagkakalayo ( not a big difference),” Galvez said during the continuation of Senate Committee of the Whole inquiry on the national immunization program on 15 January 2021.
This was revealed to dispel information circulating online that the Philippines is procuring Sinovac vaccine at PHP3,600, which is significantly higher than the price released by the Indonesian government for the same vaccine brand at USD13.57 or PHP651 for the procurement of 160 million doses.
“I can assure you that in our negotiation, the prices relative to our neighbors are fair and considered the best price,” he added.
The vaccine czar said the national government cannot disclose yet the actual negotiated price with the vaccine manufacturer as to not hamper the ongoing negotiations as well as harm the deals with other vaccine companies. He committed that all prices will be available to the public in due time.
Vaccines to be procured by the Philippine government are secured through multilateral arrangements with fund managers such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank (WB). With these fund managers, he said the country can be assured of more strict and transparent documentation when it comes to procurement.
“We assure the public that it (vaccine procurement) will undergo strict [procedure] considering that all our vaccine procurement will undergo ADB and WB stringent regulatory requirements,” Galvez said.
Volume orders, lower prices
He said the centralized procurement implemented by the national government, which is a prevailing practice in many developing and developed countries, ensures greater access to vaccines at lower prices. Moreover, it guarantees equitable distribution, as well as complies with regulations relative to the use and sale of vaccines among countries.
“Given there is not enough supply yet, the Philippine national government’s approach is to pool national volumes to get a seat at the negotiating table and secure the most number of vaccines at the best prices with our partners in the private sector and the LGUs (local government units),” he added.
At present, at least 80 percent of the global vaccine supply have been pre-ordered by the vaccines’ countries of origin. The two percent has been secured under the COVAX Facility, while the remaining 18 percent is now up for grabs by developing countries such as the Philippines.
The tripartite method, which is a first-of-its-kind deal in the world, will help the country secure its vaccine requirement. It locks-in the orders of the Philippines with pharmaceutical companies whose products are already in the advanced stages of development and have shown promising results.
Under such tripartite agreements, Galvez said the national government tries to get the best price through negotiations with vaccine manufacturers, while the LGUs and companies provide the funding.
A total of 17 million doses have been secured through tripartite agreements forged between LGUs, private companies, and the national government with British-Swedish vaccines maker AstraZeneca last Thursday.
The first batch of vaccines consisting of 2.5 million doses purchased by private firms last November 2020 will be delivered in May of this year. On the other hand, the 14.5 million doses ordered by 39 LGUs and 300 companies through a tripartite agreement signed on January 14 will arrive in the country by the third or fourth quarter of 2021.
“The government will strive to meet its target of 148 million doses of safe and effective vaccines this year at the earliest possible time,” he added.
The government’s “Whole-of-Nation Approach”, he said, will ensure that the government will be able to secure safe, effective, and sufficient vaccine doses for all Filipinos.
The arrangement will also “fulfill the government’s responsibility to ensure equitable distribution.”
Based on vaccine expert panel endorsement
A vaccine will only be procured once it has been endorsed by the Vaccine Expert Panel. Likewise, only vaccines that received an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) will be administered to the public.
The selection, procurement, and administration of Covid-19 vaccines in the country will strictly adhere to the government’s stringent protocols to ensure transparency and accountability, he assured lawmakers.
“Only those vaccines endorsed by the vaccine expert panel will be purchased. Only those issued an EUA by FDA (Food and Drug Administration) will be administered. With regard to the prices of vaccines, we also want to assure the public that the negotiations will result in the best price available given our total volumes,” Galvez said.
The FDA granted Pfizer-BioNTech an EUA on Thursday, January 14. AstraZeneca, Sinovac, and Gamaleya have also submitted their respective applications for EUA.
Galvez also clarified that given the limited supply of the vaccines, the government cannot afford to choose one or two brands of vaccines, hence the creation of a vaccine portfolio.
“We have been pursuing a portfolio strategy and are negotiating with seven vaccine manufacturers. These are the Serum Institute of India for Novavax, AstraZeneca of U.K., Pfizer of the U.S. and Germany, Janssen J&J of the U.S. and Belgium, Moderna of the U.S., Sinovac of China, and Gamaleya of Russia. This proves that we are not favoring any one particular brand or country,” Galvez said.
Vaccines will help end pandemic
Meanwhile, vaccine expert Dr. Lulu Bravo emphasized the importance of vaccines in the ongoing battle versus the deadly Covid-19.
“We have this old adage that prevention is better than cure, and with vaccines, it is an investment in health. I’ve always taught our medical students and everybody else that a superior doctor prevents disease, and an inferior doctor treats disease,” Bravo said.
“We really need to rely on experts to tell us what to do next. The safety concern is paramount. We will not compromise the safety of our people. That is very important in vaccine development. Any vaccine that shows signs of safety concern is thrown away as soon as it is detected,” she added.
Bravo added that the context behind the efficacy rates of vaccines, particularly Sinovac, which has a 50-percent efficacy rate.
“That 50 percent efficacy was actually set by WHO (World Health Organization) long before, at the beginning of the pandemic. They (WHO) even said that efficacy of 50 to 70 percent would be already acceptable in the midst of a pandemic because these efficacy rates needed to be put in place when you have a severe pandemic,” she said.
“When the incidence is so high, that 50% efficacy would really be good enough to have that kind of protection, because no protection, of course, is worse than partial protection. I guess that would be a good efficacy rate should you be able to get that vaccine,” Bravo added. (PNA)