MANILA, Philippines — The government can still choose not to go through with its purchase of 25 million jabs from China's Sinovac, the country's vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said Friday during a Senate probe on the national vaccination plan.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque during a virtual briefing on Monday confirmed that the Philippines had secured tens of millions of vaccines from Sinovac on Monday despite lingering questions on its efficacy and the lack of conclusive data released by its manufacturer.
The most recent findings on the vaccine came from Brazil, whose experts on Wednesday announced that they found the jab to have an efficacy of 50.4%, barely meeting the threshold of 50% to 60% set by global authorities.
Asked by Sen. Nancy Binay if the government "can still choose not to purchase Sinovac," Galvez replied: "Yes." The vaccine czar added that no payment has been made to Sinovac yet for the doses and that the agreement is "only an advanced market commitment."
Testing czar Vince Dizon also said: "If the vaccine expert panel does not recommend a certain vaccine then the Philippine government will not purchase and will not administer the vaccine."
"The choice of vaccine is heavily reliant on what the vaccine expert panel recommends," he added.
Senators have been questioning the government's decision to purchase jabs from Sinovac which they say is more expensive but less effective than most of the other jabs on the government's portfolio. Galvez, for his part, has maintained that the vaccine prices being circulated by the media — mostly sourced from Sen. Sonny Angara's office which obtained the data from the health department in November — are inaccurate.
However, he and other top officials have refused to disclose the prices of the vaccines on the government's portfolio, claiming that they are bound by non-disclosure agreements.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan on Wednesday urged the government "to cancel the purchase" of Sinovac's jabs.
Why not AstraZeneca?
Binay also questioned why the government has purchased so many doses from Sinovac but not AstraZeneca, which most senators have said is more efficacious than Sinovac — at 70% — and is offering its doses at a non-profit price of P610 for two doses.
Meanwhile, a single dose of Sinovac's vaccine could be as low as P680 or as high as P1,1814 according to data gathered by the offices of Sens. Angara and Ping Lacson.
Galvez confirmed to Binay that no national government funds were used to procure the P17 million doses from the United Kingdom-based pharma company announced by Malacañang on Thursday and celebrated by President Rodrigo Duterte himself through a pre-recorded message aired over state-run PTV.
"Our arrangement with AstraZeneca is the vaccine will be procured by private companies and [local government units]," the vaccine czar said partially in Filipino.
But Binay pointed out that national government money is being spent on Sinovac which applied for emergency use authorization only on Thursday — and with incomplete documents —as opposed to AstraZeneca which applied last week.
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