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Congress to grill big pharmas on pneumo vax ‘overprice’
CONGRESS will summon big pharmaceutical companies to probe the alleged “bakuna budol” on pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCVs) which has caused billions of pesos in losses to the government.
In the Feb. 15, 2022 Kapihan ng Samahang Plaridel, Probinsyano Ako Congressman Jose Bonito C. Singson Jr., who is also Chairman of the House Committee on Public Accounts, revealed that he filed House Resolution 2492, which hopes to dig deep into the ongoing controversy on the alleged overpricing of PCVs.
The House resolution was co-filed with Congresswoman Marisol C. Panotes, Representative, Second District, Camarines Norte; Congresswoman Joy Myra S. Tambunting, Representative, Second District, Paranaque City; Congressman Virgilio S. Lacson, Representative, Manila Teachers Partylist; and Congresswoman Florida P. Robes, Representative, Lone District, San Jose Del Monte City.
Singson commented on the World Health Organization (WHO) study showing that pneumo vaccine types PCV10 and PCV13 are non-inferior to each other: “This is a confirmation that there are several choices in the market…Marami po tayong pwedengpag-pilian at sa mas mura—doon tayo bumili.” However, only PCV13, which is more costly, is the only one available in the Philippine market.
He added that while there might be reasons for limiting the choices for such vaccines such as pending patents, “everybody can manufacture these vaccines especially in the interest of public health…but eventually, the formulation of a patent can be shared and should be shared and we cannot allow a monopoly in our national formulary.”
Recent data, such as the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA)’s report that pneumococcal diseases were the fourth biggest cause of mortality in the country in 2020, have again resurfaced the importance of vaccination for this condition, especially for children.
The consumer association United Filipino Consumers and Commuters (UFCC) had filed a formal complaint to the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC), calling for the review of the PCV procurement; the complaint was made following allegations of misleading the government into procuring only the more expensive PCV13 as the single solution to pneumococcal diseases, which is right now being dubbed as a sort of “bakuna budol.” In response, Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III said they have mobilized their resources to look into the PCV tender.
The PCC complaint alleged that there might have been hidden workings that nudged the government into believing that only the costlier PCV13 is available for the national formulary, when in fact the WHO stated in different studies that PCV13 and PCV10 are both equally effective and safe.
Also alleged were active efforts to downplay the WHO and the DOH’s Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) studies which decisively show the equality between PCV13 and the more reasonably-priced PCV10.
As the Head of the Committee on Public Accounts, Singson acknowledged that “where public funds are concerned, (we have) the right to conduct a hearing if there are anomalies observed. This is definitely a matter of concern for everybody as this could save billions (for the government).”
While he will be consulting with his colleagues about the issue, Singson emphasized, “Any transaction deemed disadvantageous to the government—questionable po iyan. So, we should summon also the resource experts and speakers to determine if protocols are properly followed and the interests of the public are protected. Kailangang palabasin lahat ng proof at ebidensyapara makagawa tayo ng definitive report whether these transactions have been tainted with monopoly.”
The stakeholders that will be asked to attend a hearing include the manufacturers of the vaccines, the procuring parties, and complainants who contend that the allegations of monopoly and overpricing do exist. Refusal to attend the hearings can result in subpoenas.
Singson also exhorted, “Gawin natin ang ikabubuti para sa lahat and avoid transactions that are disadvantageous to our government. Gusto natin malaman if nagamit ba ang public funds properly. So we will be looking into this matter closely, discuss with the committee members, at hihingi tayo ng permission and resolution to make (that meeting) happen. Sisiguraduhin ko sa inyo na it will be thorough, fair, and exhaustive para po maipaliwanag sa publiko.”
It can be recalled that back in 2019, an inquiry into this matter was already filed by House Committtee on Health chair, Quezon 4th district Rep. Angelina Tan, who asked the government to allow more competition in the PCV space.