'Overpriced, monopolized': House leader wants to get to the bottom of PCV mess

Published February 15, 2022, 5:57 PM

by Ellson Quismorio

A House leader has sought an investigation in aid of legislation on the alleged unnecessary purchase of costly pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCVs), which has purportedly caused billions of pesos in losses to the government.

X-ray showing pneumonia. (Cdc/ Unsplash)

Probinsyano Ako Party-list Rep. Bonito Singson Jr., chairman of the House Committee on Public Accounts, revealed during the Kapihan ng Samahang Plaridel news forum Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 15 that he filed House Resolution (HR) No.2492 for this purpose.

The three-page resolution urges the Department of Health (DOH) to study, consider, examine, and evaluate the effectivity of the PCVs pre-qualified, licensed, and recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). It was filed Monday, Feb. 14.

At the core of the issue is the purchase of the “overpriced” PCVs when they are cheaper versions available in the market.

Singson highlighted a key WHO study showing that pneumo vaccine types PCV10 and PCV13 are non-inferior to each other: This basically means that one vaccine types isn’t better than the other.

“This is a confirmation that there are several choices in the market…Marami po tayong pwedeng pag-pilian at sa mas mura—doon tayo bumili (There are a lot of choices and some are cheaper–let’s buy from them),” he said.

However, only the pricier PCV13 version is available in the Philippine market.

Singson noted 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.”

As the Public Accounts panel chairman,, 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].”

The stakeholders that will be asked to attend the hearing include the manufacturers of the vaccines, the procuring parties, and complainants who allegaed that monopoly and overpricing do exist. Refusal to attend the hearings can result in subpoenas.

The party-list lawmaker said the sought House probe will determine whether or not the PCV13 transactions “have been tainted with monopoly”.

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 highlighted the importance of vaccination against this condition, especially for children.

The consumer association United Filipino Consumers and Commuters (UFCC) had filed a formal complaint before the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) and called for the review of the PCV procurement.

The complaint was lodged amid allegations that the government was misled 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” (vaccine trickery).

The PCC complaint alleged that there might have been hidden workings that nudged the government into believing that only the more expensive PCV13 was 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 are 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.

In response, DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III said they have mobilized their resources to look into the PCV tender.