MANILA - As the Philippines prepares to procure COVID-19 vaccines next year, lawmakers on Wednesday discussed a "rough" estimate of how much the government would spend to have at least 60 percent of Filipinos inoculated against the global pandemic.
Senate Committee on Finance chair Sonny Angara presented a table that compares the projected prices of 7 COVID-19 vaccine brands, including value added taxes and the cost of inflation.
Based on the data, the Philippines can inoculate its entire population against COVID-19 twice over should it procure the cheapest available vaccine in the market from US-based pharmaceutical company Novavax.
The US-produced COVID-19 drug is estimated to cost the government P366 for 2 doses, which means that the P82.5 billion vaccine fund under the 2021 budget could cover the inoculation of some 225.4 million people, more than double the Philippines' 106 million population.
But the the Novavax COVID vaccine remains on its third phase of trial, lagging behind China's Sinovac, UK's AstraZeneca, US's Pfizer, and Russia's Gamaleya, which are already in talks with the Philippine government.
British drugmaker AstraZeneca, which inked a deal with the Philippines for 2.6 million doses of the vaccine, costs about 2 times higher than Novavax's product, but showed an average 70 percent effectiveness.
That rate jumped to 90 percent when an initial half-dose then a full dose was given, similar to the effectiveness of rival vaccines producers Pfizer and Moderna.
Priced at P610 for 2 doses, the Philippines can have up to 135.24 million people inoculated should it spend its entire P82.5 billion COVID-19 vaccine fund for the purchase of AstraZeneca's product.
Last week, more private firms expressed interest in joining the government's supply deal with the AstraZeneca, thanks to the British vaccine-maker's high effectiveness and low price point.
The COVID-19 vaccine from Russia's Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology is estimated to cost P1,220 for 2 doses.
This means that only 67.62 million Filipinos, about half the number of beneficiaries under AstraZeneca's price, could be inoculated should the government use its 2021 COVID-19 vaccine fund for this product.
Gamaleya earlier asserted that its vaccine is 92 percent effective, but the company has yet to submit documents to prove its claim, according to Dr. Nina Gloriani, University of the Philippines College of Public Health professor and head of the Department of Science and Technology’s vaccine technical panel.
"They have provided us with animal studies Phases I and II data. But their Phase 3 study protocol . . . still has some missing information. So we have requested that. And the informed consent has not been submitted," Gloriani earlier said.
"We want the scientific data. We cannot rely on what is published in the internet," she said.
While Pfizer's P2,379-vaccine (for 2 doses) is more expensive compared to other brands, the US-produced drug is known to have one of the highest effectiveness rate at at least 90 percent.
Pfizer is also hailed as the first COVID-19 vaccine that earned an approval from a government after the United Kingdom jumped ahead to begin its most crucial mass inoculation program using the said brand.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has described Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine as "very promising", but some buyers have been turned off by the product's cold chain issues.
Unlike its rivals, Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 F) or below to maintain its efficacy.
Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel said he hopes that the bulk of the COVID-19 vaccine fund would be used to procure the actual drug instead of additional equipment for storage.
"Sana hindi na tayo magtayo pa ng freezers, renting freezers just so vaccines can be brought to different parts of the archipelago," he said, without naming a particular brand.
(I hope we don't need to spend to build or rent freezers just so vaccines can be brought to different parts of the archipelago.)
Pfizer has been reportedly working on solving its COVID-19 vaccine's cold storage issues.
China's Sinovac appears to be the second most expensive COVID-19 vaccine based initial estimates, as it is expected to be priced at P3,629.50 for 2 doses.
At this price point, the Philippine government can inoculate 22.73 million Filipinos, or about a quarter of the population, against COVID-19 next year.
Aside from its high price, the legitimacy of Sinovac products was recently questioned after the Washington Post reported that the company's chief executive officer admitted to bribery.
Citing court records, the Washington Post said that Sinovac's CEO had admitted to giving more than $83,000 (P3.99 million) to a regulatory official from 2002 to 2011 to expedite certifications for its SARS vaccine and a swine flu vaccines.
The Department of Health earlier said that Philippines' vaccine panels would look into reports.
Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is estimated to be the most expensive option with a price tag ranging between P3,904 and P4,504 for 2 doses, depending on how many vials are ordered.
A recent study showed that the vaccine from the Massachusetts-based company could trigger the human immune system to produce COVID-19 antibodies that lasts for at least 3 months.
The Moderna vaccine also boasts of having a 94 percent effectiveness rate.
Last month, the European Union secured 160 million doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine taking the EU's potential stock of COVID-19 shots to nearly 2 billion.
Angara noted that the estimates have yet to cover the cost of other items needed for the administration of COVID-19 vaccines.
The government needs to spend P1,200 for the training of one vaccinator for every 350 people, and another P1,924 for personal protective equipment, needles and syringes used during the inoculation process, according to the data presented in the Senate.
The Senate earlier agreed to hike the COVID-19 vaccine fund to P83 billion next year, but the fund was reduced at P72.5 billion after the bicameral conference committee realigned portions of the sum to other programs under the 2021 budget.
PHILIPPINES' COVID-19 VACCINE PLAN?
Executive department officials have yet to discuss to lawmakers details of the national government's COVID-19 vaccination program, Angara told other senators.
"It's a rough estimate. It's a moving target," he said.
"Hindi pa po maliwanag . . . At least wala pa po at my level pero someone from the IATF (Inter Agency Task Force) may be discussing it."
(It is not yet clear... At least on my level, but someone from the Inter Agency Task Force may be discussing it.)
Health officials earlier said that at least 70 percent of the population should receive 2 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine before Filipinos can develop a herd immunity against the virus that has forced economies around the world to impose lockdowns and plunge into recessions.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier said the Philippines plans to roll out its COVID-19 vaccine program by March 2021 "in best case scenario."