Cost of vaccines should remain confidential as commercial secret, says Turkish health minister

The cost of coronavirus vaccines Turkey purchased from China shouldn’t have been discussed in public, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said in a briefing on Thursday.

“This was something that should have been protected as a commercial secret as per a bilateral agreement between the countries,” Koca said.

The minister’s comments come as a response to main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu revealing customs documents for a shipment of one million CoronaVac doses from China’s SinoVac.

Kılıçdaroğlu said on Tuesday that more than one million doses of the vaccine had been declared as free of charge upon arrival at Turkish customs, and afterwards Turkey purchased them from intermediary Keymen Pharmaceuticals for $12 per jab.

Koca said he hadn’t spoken about the price of the vaccine doses because price confidentiality was included in the contract Turkey signed.

“I could have easily announced it. If I did, everybody would find out that it was lower than global prices,” Koca said, adding that such discussions could harm Turkey’s relations with China.

Turkey’s contract includes guarantees for efficacy, Koca said, adding that the incident at customs was related to the guarantee.

Koca asked, “In a world where vaccine wars reign, would a manufacturer ever give away doses to a country?”

According to the minister, SinoVac couldn’t come up with the amount of cash required for the guarantee Turkey demanded, and thus utilized for the import Keymen Pharmaceuticals, a company affiliated with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that could.

SinoVac gave the doses to Keymen without cost, and then announced in a public statement that it received its payment from the company after Turkey paid its dues to the intermediary, Koca said. “And, the affiliated taxes, including the corporate income tax, have all been declared and paid. There are no issues.”

The minister provided no evidence for the legality of SinoVac’s dealings with Keymen Pharmaceuticals, or the Chinese company’s statement.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Murat Emir responded to Koca’s comments in a series of tweets, saying:

“If the intermediary sells the 1 million doses of vaccines, which it obtained for free, to the State Supply Office for $12 million, doesn’t that mean that the state gave the intermediary $12 million in profit? Stop beating around the bush!”

The opposition deputy also asked:

“The health minister shows a piece of writing as if it was evidence. This piece of paper:

1-Doesn’t constitute a document that was prepared as per tax laws.

2-Could have been written up at any time, and as such, wouldn’t be accepted by a tax court.

3-Inexplicably includes 1 percent VAT, despite the vaccine not being able to be sold or administered at a price. Why?”

It takes 14 days after the second dose of the vaccine to achieve immunity and herd immunity requires at least 60 percent of the population to be vaccinated, Koca repeated.

“As of today, we have no issues with procurement or planning. The second doses for all our citizens who have received their first dose are guaranteed,” Koca said. “Better security would be to have our own vaccine.”

Turkey was set to receive its first doses in early December, however, delayed deliveries meant that the vaccination drive could start on Jan. 14 the earliest. The delay was resolved around the same time as the Chinese congress ratified an extradition treaty with Turkey, following last summer’s allegations that Turkey was repatriating Uighurs to China through third countries as per Beijing’s long-standing demand. At the time, Turkish parliament hadn’t ratified the treaty.

“This is the period that comes before normalization, this is a time for appropriate decisions,” the minister said. “We will focus on the pandemic’s effects on social life from now on.”

According to official figures, as of Thursday, Turkey has administered more than eight million doses to more than 6.5 million people, with 1.44 million people already completing their second doses in the vaccination drive that started on Jan. 14.

On the same day, 73 people lost their lives due to COVID-19 and 9,572 new cases were diagnosed. Turkey has had a total of 2.67 million cases and lost 28,358 people to the pandemic.

Turkey's coronavirus figures for Feb. 25
Turkey's coronavirus figures for Feb. 25. Source: https://covid19.saglik.gov.tr/

 

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

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