Jonathan FORMER ABAKADA Party-list Representative Jonathan dela Cruz, national consultant of advocacy group United Filipino Consumers and Commuters (UFCC), during the Kapihanng Samahang Plaridel talked about government losses in an alleged monopoly in pneumonia vaccine procurement.

Gov’t losing billions as pneumonia vax ‘monopoly’ continues

January 20, 2022 People's Journal 2042 views

THE government is losing billions of pesos because of a near-marketplace dominance in the procurement of pneumococcal vaccines (PCVs), the largest vaccine tender in the world. PCVs are meant to prevent child pneumonia, one of the top killer diseases among children 5 years old and below. Based on a UNICEF study, one child dies every 39 seconds because of pneumonia.

Dela Cruz said in yesterday’s Kapihan ng Samahang Plaridel forum that the government has been overcharged billions of pesos by a single pharmaceutical company in the procurement of this vaccine. Because of this, UFCC filed a complaint before the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) to investigate the alleged anti-competition practice.

Dela Cruz noted that the government might be unknowingly losing billions in procuring unnecessarily expensive pneumonia vaccines.

As an example, he pointed out that U.S. biopharmaceutical company Pfizer did not have credible competition for the PCVs, but started to offer PHP 816 per single dose to capture the market.

Then, to increase their chances of winning the recent bids, he said: “Kung saan mayroong nagbabantang bagong kompetisyon, binaba nila ang presyohanggang makaabot ng P345 per dose. So, ninanakawan mo na ang gobyerno, niyari mo pa mga kabataan na dapat nabigyan ng mga bakuna. “

Dela Cruz suspects that what seems to be a monopoly is happening as both Pfizer and Zuellig Pharma are offering and pushing the same PCV13 vaccine, locking out other potential players.

Dela Cruz questioned the effects of this suspected pneumonia vaccine monopoly, citing recent studies of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring that there are three available PCV vaccines that are comparable and not inferior to each other.

Since 2014, the Philippines, through its childhood immunization program, has been using the more expensive PCV13 from Pfizer, despite WHO studies that showed that PCV10 is “non-inferior” or at parity with the PCV13 vaccines.

In 2020, there were calls to open up the PCV tender to other players, which up to that point was being dominated by Pfizer. The government, through the Department of Health (DOH), responded and opened the PCV bidding to other pharmaceutical corporations.

Dela Cruz said when the bidding was reopened and a new competitor for the PCV was considered, Pfizer again suddenly reduced its price from P 5.5B annually to just P2.6B in the new bidding. As other players came in, they continually lowered their price for the bidding.

“Ninanakawan ang ating gobyerno ng walang kalaban-laban dahil sa supposed monopoly na ito (The government is being robbed helplessly because of this supposed monopoly), “ Dela Cruz said.

Aside from the alleged monopoly, Dela Cruz revealed the other harmful dynamics from other players that occur during the biddings: “’Yung mga ibang big pharma ay kunwaring magka- kompetisyon, ngunit sa totoo lang ay mag-sweetheart o magka-kuntsaba . They collude and help steer the bidding of other pharma manufacturers so they can stay and dominate the procurement process.”

In the Kapihan discussion, Dela Cruz said another pharma — Zuellig Pharma — has started to acquire companies beyond the pharmaceutical sector, such as manufacturing and logistics, to try to corner the market.

“This tactic will further hold the government hostage in choosing them as the preferred PCV suppliers in the national formulary, while preventing the formation of a level-playing field that can give Filipinos more affordable choices when it comes to vaccines,” Dela Cruz pointed out.

The UFCC’s complaint before the PCC asked the independent anti-monopoly regulatory body to issue a cease-and-desist order and to temporarily suspend the procurement of PCVs while the investigation is still ongoing.

“Pera ng bayan ang kanilang kinakamkam dito, na naapektuhanang mga bata,” he said.