Fast tracking of open, competitive bidding urged as supplied thin out

Published July 13, 2020, 8:49 AM

by Edgard Hilario

The Department of Health (DOH) and the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) crushed the monopoly in child pneumococcal vaccines (PCVs) as it allowed the two PCVs in the market to participate in the tender for the vaccine against child pneumonia, the number one killer disease among children 5 years old and below. Citing the World Health Organization (WHO) new evidence on comparability and potential savings, the HTAC initial decision was hailed by Congress.

Congresswoman Angelina Tan, chair of the House committee on Health, lauded DOH and HTA and said that this is a welcome development and that the DOH is “on the right track.”

Tan added that with HTAC, “the country now has a venue to have an in-depth discussion on matters that affects health programs especially immunization programs.” 

In previous interviews prior to the release of the HTAC decision, Tan has expressed her position calling for open, competitive bidding on PCV. This, after the World Health Organization (WHO) came out with new evidence that states the two available vaccines in the market- PCV 10 and PCV 13- are comparable in providing the same protection for child pneumonia.

Tan was quoted as saying that breaking the monopoly of procurement on the PCVs will entail savings on costs. This holds especially true at the time of pandemic which has hit hard on global economies, the Philippines included.

“Both vaccines exist. If the health assessment proves that both PCV10 and PCV13 have the same effects, then we need to go through a procurement process that’s open and competitive so the government can save on costs.”

Tan’s statement on savings was validated in the HTAC report which allowed for the two PCVs in the market to be part of the competitive bidding. PCV10, a more affordable but equally effective PCV option is approved by the Philippine FDA with indications for all serotypes stated in the HTAC recommendation. The other PCV being used currently is the most expensive vaccine in the National Immunization Program (NIP) at P4.4 billion which is more than half of the P7.2 billion budget of the NIP for 2020.

Further, the HTAC report said that the Council recognizes the clamor of the community for higher coverage and the ability to access the health intervention to achieve equality in health, which can be better addressed by having a lower-priced vaccine.

The DOH asked the HTAC to review the two PCVs last November after the WHO presented new evidence on vaccine comparability saying that there is no scientific evidence to show any difference on the effect of the two vaccines in combatting child pneumonia.

In a previous statement, Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said that under the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law, the HTAC is is mandated to review existing health programs and benefits of the DOH and PhilHealth in the next two years.

He added that the review is in light of the scientific evidence and the s significant budget impact of this particular vaccine to the DOH.

In the initial decision released by HTAC last July 1, it said that the government could save P8 billion in terms of vaccine cost should PCV 10 be chosen.

This was echoed by Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire who said that the HTAC review to open the tender for both vaccines may be beneficial in the allocation of budget for other vaccines in the Expanded Program for Immunization (EPI). 

The HTAC review which lasted for almost eight months has caused the delay in the open competitive bidding leading to procurement of PCVs, the supply of which is already reportedly thinning out in some areas.

Because of this, renewed calls on the urgency of open, competitive bidding for PCVs was reinforced.

Public health expert Dr. Jun Belizario, Dean of the University of the Philippines College of Public Health (UPCPH) said in a recent forum that amid the pandemic, the Philippines continues to be plagued as well with other diseases which should also be given significant attention. 

This was also the essence of House Resolution 906 filed by party-list representatives Adriano Ebcas, Presley de Jesus, Sergio Dagooc and Godofredo Guya, which urged the DOH to ensure the continued safe implementation of the mandated immunization program for children despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The House resolution further urged the DOH to secure and ensure a stable supply of available vaccines through continued conduct of open, fair and competitive bidding to prevent outbreaks of other vaccine-preventable diseases during the pandemic. Although the more than half-a-year review of the PCVs has delayed procurement of the PCV, a house resolution that was urgently made amid the current health crisis mentions the importance of having an open, competitive tender.

 “An open, fair, competitive public procurement of NIP vaccines provide the Filipino people the broadest possible options for affordable, quality, and registered vaccines, allowing for potential significant savings to the government while at the same time promoting strong public governance,” Ebcas said.