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Is PH really a poor country? Experts, netizens question gov’t choice for pricey COVID-19 vax from China

Pricing be damned, the IATF, led by vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., will be hedging on Sinovac as the country’s first COVID-19 vaccine.

25 million doses of China’s Sinovac. That is how much the Philippine government, led by vaccine czar Sec. Carlito Galvez, Jr., is looking to get from China once it clears clinical trials from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

However, at a staggering P3,629.50 a pop, is Sinovac the best choice for what the Duterte administration—and their supporters—call a “poor country” like the Philippines?

According to Galvez, they are choosing Sinovac based on price and affordability. “It’s three times lower compared to prices from Sinopharm. They can also produce for us, if we finalize negotiations, about 20 million (doses),” he said during a Laging Handa briefing on December 14.

Sinopharm is yet another Chinese company the Philippine government is looking into for COVID-19 vaccine supplies.

Philippine Ambassador Chito Sta. Romana, who is part of the negotiating team, says this trust comes from “Chinese experience” as well as those from other countries. “But it has to be validated by our own health authorities,” he added.

They’re also hedging on Sinovac as it is the vaccine that will arrive first. “They will have it by April, but we want to negotiate to have it in by March,” said Galvez.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, meanwhile, has said that the only reason why Galvez is choosing Sinovac—and why the administration is going with his choice—is that we were “late” in asking Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Moderna.

This trust comes in the face of news that Sinovac has allegedly bribed Chinese regulatory officials just to pass clinical trials.

Former Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) consultant Dr. Tony Leachon has continually expressed his worries about Sinovac—particularly its effectiveness and safety.

He shared an article from the Washington Post which revealed that Sinovac’s CEO is known for bribing China’s drug regulators just so they can put out their product first.

Leachon even questioned why the Philippines is “settling” for a Chinese drug manufacturer with dubious records—all because we “missed the bus” on vaccines from more trustworthy sources like Pfizer or Moderna.

Leachon also brought up the cost of Sinovac,  which seemed astronomical when compared to AstraZeneca’s.

He would bat for Pfizer, a company he used to work for, though he claims his status as a former employee of the pharmaceutical giant did not have any bearing on his recommendation in the slightest.

He added that Sinovac has yet to finish its crucial Phase 3 trials, which involves giving doses to thousands of people to test its efficacy and safety.

Leachon, however, still has respect for Galvez.

Budget constraints as a reason for Sinovac choice?

Galvez’s insistence on Sinovac also brings to light the country’s financial state during the pandemic.

In an interview with ANC’s Headstart, Sen. Ralph Recto said the government is probably “trying to save money on the vaccine budget.”

According to Recto, the government and the Filipino people should stop looking at how much the vaccine costs and instead look at how effective and safe the vaccine is. “Let’s give the people the best available in the market.”

He adds that the government actually has money in its coffers to procure more doses of a proper COVID-19 vaccine—as well as give proper training and salaries to health care workers along the way.

Netizens have echoed both Leachon’s and Recto’s concerns when it comes to procuring vaccines as well as where we can get our money—though they still bring up President Rodrigo Duterte’s claims of the country “not having money” for vaccines or testing kits.

Some even questioned the decisions Duterte’s “generals” have made during the pandemic, especially on utilizing the country’s limited budget.

This comes from the fact that most of Duterte’s cabinet secretaries are retired military men instead of medical experts.

Netizens have also questioned Galvez’s choice of vaccine as Pfizer has demonstrated that it is leagues ahead of Sinovac and is far more effective, safe—and therefore reliable—than what China has to offer.

The Department of Budget and Management’s response? China, all because of how “responsive” they are.

This really brings into question how competent the IATF panel is, especially their decision-makers: Duterte’s cabinet secretaries.

To echo Dr. Leachon, they are good soldiers. They follow orders without fail. This begs the question: are they actually making the right decisions, or is someone else deciding for them?

It also brings to light where our taxes have really gone during this pandemic.

Back in August, Duterte claimed that the government had no more funds to sustain Filipinos through the pandemic—both to provide aid and to stimulate the local economy.

Yet the government still went ahead with its “beautification project” for Manila Bay as well as let P15 billion go by way of the PhilHealth mafia scandal.

Jennylyn Mercado has this to say about Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s unwavering trust in Health Sec. Francisco Duque III

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