MANILA — Beijing offered the Philippines the COVID-19 vaccine from its state-backed Sinovac Biotech at a "BFF" or "best friend forever" price, Malacañang said on Thursday, after a lawmaker urged the government to rethink the procurement over efficacy concerns.
The Philippines has booked 25 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine, which Senate finance committee chair Sen. Sonny Angara earlier said cost around P3,600 per 2 jabs.
Communist China is "not driven by market forces" and can "unilaterally fix" its vaccine prices, said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
"Nabigyan po tayo ng presyo na ukol lamang sa kanilang BFF," he told reporters in an online briefing.
(We were given a price fit for their BFF.)
"Kung hindi po ako nagkakamali, pangatlong pinakamahal lang po siya out of 6 brands, so it is in the mid-range. Wala pong katuturan iyang ningangawa ng mga kritiko na napakamahal daw ng Sinovac," he added.
(If I am not mistaken, that is just the third most expensive out of 6 brands, so it is in the mid-range. There is no sense to the claims of critics that Sinovac is very expensive.)
A confidentiality agreement covers the prices of vaccines, and Roque said he was "not at a liberty" to disclose Sinovac's exact cost.
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President Rodrigo Duterte has defended his government's decision to purchase Chinese-made coronavirus vaccines, saying they are as good as the shots developed by the Americans and the Europeans.
"The Chinese are not lacking in brains," Duterte said in a late-night televised address on Wednesday. "The Chinese are bright. They would not venture (into producing vaccines) if it is not safe, sure and secure."
Duterte made the remarks as questions have been raised over the level of protection Sinovac Biotech's experimental COVID-19 vaccine can provide, after researchers in Brazil released late-stage clinical data showing efficacy that was lower than initially announced.
At least one senator, Francis Pangilinan, has called on the government to cancel the purchase of the Sinovac vaccine, one of 7 it is lining up as it plans to begin immunization next month.
The first 50,000 Sinovac doses are expected to arrive in February.
Duterte, who has pursued warmer ties with Beijing, has said previously his preference was for his country to source its COVID-19 vaccines from either China or Russia.
Vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez said the government has also firmed up supply deals with Novavax, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Russia's Gamaleya Institute for 137 million doses in total.
These are on top of 40 million doses the Philippines expects to receive through the World Health Organization's COVAX facility in the first quarter, Galvez said.
— With a report from Reuters