By Macon Araneta

Sen. Imee Marcos asked the government to explain why it will pay more than double what rich countries have negotiated to buy the same vaccine against Covid-19.

Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on Economic Affairs, said Belgium’s Budget Sec. Eva De Bleeker publicly  disclosed that member states of the European Union (EU) will be buying the AstraZeneca vaccine for only 1.78 euros or about PHP105 per dose, which is 2.3 times less than what the Philippines will be paying the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm.

This week, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) expects to sign an agreement with AstraZeneca to buy 30 million doses of its vaccine at $5 or about Php240 per dose, as soon as the UK Health ministry authorizes its use.

“The purchase price doesn’t match the promise sold,” Marcos said.

Marcos cited statements made by AstraZeneca’s CEO Pascal Soriot and its research partner Oxford University “to provide the vaccine on a not-for-profit basis for the duration of the pandemic across the world and in perpetuity to low- and middle-income countries.”

“Why has the government agreed to be shortchanged?” Marcos asked.

At $5 per dose, 30 million doses will cost the Philippine government $150 million or almost PHP7.2 billion, which could buy more than 69 million doses for the EU.

“With two doses required, 15 million Filipinos can be vaccinated at the same cost that can cover about 34.5 million Europeans,” Marcos pointed out.

Marcos also cited that the United States will be buying the AstraZeneca vaccine at $4 per dose, at which rate five Americans can be immunized for every four Filipinos.

“The pricing issue must be addressed by the IATF, lest the government be suspected of profiteering amid tight funding for  vaccines,” Marcos noted.

Marcos pushed for an ASEAN initiative to lobby global pharmaceutical firms to waive their intellectual property rights on vaccine patents, so that vaccines can be produced locally and sold at a cheaper price in poorer countries.

Meanwhile, Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go related that  the Philippine government is exploring all possible sources of vaccines available to immunize Filipinos against COVID-19. 

According to a government report on December 21, Gamaleya is poised to ship in the first quarter of 2021 with 15 to 20 million doses arriving with ongoing engagements with the Russian Embassy.

AstraZeneca also committed 2.6 million doses with ongoing talks for another 20 million. Private sectors are also raising another round and local government units will also procure five to 10 million doses. Its delivery is targeted to be May 2021.

Other vaccines, such as Pfizer, Sinovac and Moderna, are still in the process of talks.

As this developed, Sen. Pia Cayetano said the private sector may procure and bring in COVID-19 vaccines into the country from registered pharmaceutical companies as long as they comply with standards set by government authorities and existing laws. 

She also said COVID-19 vaccines could have already been exempted from the value added tax (VAT), had the House adopted the Senate’s version of the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) bill before the session ended this year.

Cayetano was reacting  to the call by House Ways and Means Chair Rep. Joey Salceda for the government to make the vaccines tax-free.