FAIR COMMENT | Alito L. Malinao
In a Cabinet meeting held recently in Davao City, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez assured President Duterte that sources for the P73 billion earmarked for the COVID-19 vaccination program of the government have been identified.
Dominguez said that around P40 billion could be raised from multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Another P20 billion could be raised from domestic sources such as the Land Bank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines, and possibly government-owned- and controlled corporations (GOCC).
According to Dominguez, he will negotiate with bilateral sources, depending on the source of the vaccine, the amount of P13.2 billion, so the total would be around P73.2 billion.
“It’s pretty much, almost fixed. Most of it is already fixed,” Dominguez said.
If the national government is “pretty much sure” that the financing of P73.2 billion for the immunization program is already a done deal, then why are local government units (LGUs) competing with each other in signing tripartite agreements with AstraZeneca, a British pharmaceutical firm, for the acquisition of the vaccine using their own local funds?
We thought all along that the national government is responsible for the procurement of the vaccines using the P73.2 billion earmarked by Congress in the 2021 budget. And that the procured vaccines will be distributed to all Filipinos through the LGUs. So why are these LGUs allowed to purchase their own vaccines?
At least 13 LGUs have already secured millions of doses of AstraZeneca that include almost all Metro Manila cities. All of them have allocated millions of pesos from their own coffers to purchase the vaccine.
So, what about those cities that did not sign an agreement with AstraZeneca? Will they be left behind?
Obviously, they will not get the British-made vaccine. They will have to wait for the national government to provide them with the vaccine chosen by Vaccine Czar Carlito Galvez, most probably the China-made Sinovac vaccine.
It is difficult to understand why the government is insisting on buying the China-made Sinovac vaccine when it has less efficacy compared to other vaccines and more expensive.
According to a wire report, health authorities in Brazil were disappointed with Sinovac’s performance that showed only a 50.4 percent efficacy rate, barely enough for the regulatory rate of 50 percent.
And while Secretary Carlito Galvez has said that some 25 million doses of Sinovac is expected to arrive soon, Director General Eric Domingo of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said although it has already applied, it has not been issued an emergency use authorization. He said that although the company has submitted data for Phase 1 and 2, it has not yet submitted Phase 3 trial data.
These LGUs who have been eager to have their constituents vaccinated by AstraZeneca may have a big surprise coming to them. It has been well-publicized that the efficacy of AstraZeneca, which is the cheapest in the market, is only 70.4 percent compared to Pfizer and Moderna vaccines with 95 and 94 percent efficacy.
What will happen if the government can finally get the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines? Can the LGUs jettison its deal with AstraZeneca and switch to the American-produced vaccines? I doubt if they can.
As the saying goes, “haste makes waste.”