Published in El Pais, 9 January 2021.
The price of vaccines is being the subject of discussion in many of the countries, especially in those were the government is distrusted by the population due to acts of corruption. Many governments in Latin America were accused by the population of wasting donations that came from COVID-19, direct purchases, non-transparency and overpriced purchases, taking advantage of the pain and great need of the population.
In health, spending should be transparent because health is a human right and investments should really show that they are cost-effective. The Belgian Secretary of State revealed (accidently) the costs of different vaccines on a Twitter post and it aroused curiosity to know if governments choose vaccines based on price or quality. And what are the prices? Sputnik is not known, but the others are:
For example: the government of the Netherlands insisted that the selection of the vaccine is based on quality, price and strictly following its approval rules for a vaccine. This procedure was so thorough that it took a little more time compared to other countries, but now the population is confident that the willingness to be vaccinated is between 75% and 90%. On the contrary, in Argentina and Bolivia, the population thinks that the governments make corrupt deals regardless of whether they treat the population as a guinea pig in this process. The selection process in these countries has not been transparent, and perhaps political and corruption reasons outweigh the quality of the vaccine. Although there are no precise data, there are already many people who have announced that they will not get the Sputnik vaccine, stating that it did not transparently meet the requirements for approval and that no country in Europe is using it. Many tell that they would prefer to pay for their own Pfizer or Moderna vaccines because they do have a good name and are thrusted to “be good.”
It is a key moment for the governments of Latin America to define and respect the purchasing processes for health and to gain legitimacy. “Of the people, by the people and for the people.” The best balance is quality, efficiency and price and doing it transparently so that the population accepts it and sees that their money is being well invested. Many governments buy for political commitments, but do governments review quality? Price should not be the only criterion in health because the population is involved. And if the population does not want to get the vaccine, they cannot be forced, and all that money on vaccines will be lost anyway. Is it cost-effective?