Senator Pia Cayetano on Wednesday stressed the need for Congress to appropriate sufficient funding for the health sector so the government can procure COVID-19 vaccines, sustain the cold chain, buy syringes and other equipment as soon as the vaccines for the coronavirus is already available in the market.
Cayetano, vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and who is tasked to defend the Department of Health (DOH) and its attached agencies’ proposed budget for 2021, said it is imperative that the DOH is able to cover the identified priority groups of around 24 million vulnerable Filipinos which make up around 20 percent of the country’s population.
Since the Philippines is now part of the COVAX facility, Cayetano said the government has the assurance of getting vaccines for three to 20 percent of the population.
“So how much do we have to allocate to cover these priority groups? Based on the costing of DOH, we need to allocate at least P15-billion, if we purchase Aztrazeneca vaccine, which is the cheapest at around P610 per person,” Cayetano said during the Senate plenary debates on the proposed P4.506-trillion national budget for 2021.
She said the government also has another option of buying vaccine from Sinopharm, which is the highest priced at around P17,690 per person for two doses. The government has to allocate P436.3-billion for China’s Sinopharm vaccines. Prices of other potential COVID-19 vaccines fall in between.
“Experts recommend that we purchase from various suppliers. Why? Well, given that there may be possible side effects, we would rather spread out our risk throughout the population and minimize the chances that we are all exposed to one particular vaccine and any particular side effects they have,” she said.
“It cannot be overemphasized that these amounts only cover the cost of vaccines and do not include consumables and other logistics that go into delivering the vaccine to the individual that needs it,” the senator stressed.
Besides the acquisition of COVID-19 vaccines, the government has to consider other expenses particularly the cold/supply chain to ensure that the vaccines are in tightly controlled temperatures before it is administered to a person.
She also said the government has to fund the training and personal protective equipment (PPEs) for the vaccinators, needles, syringes and other critical equipment.
“These are things that have to be purchased in advance, considering that the entire world is also trying to get hold of them during this global crisis,” she pointed out.
Considering that the DOH may not be also equipped to handle the supply chain requirements for COVID-19 vaccines, she said the government should be outsourcing, discussing, negotiating with private companies that are already equipped to handle such vaccines.
“Wala hong masama na magtulong-tulong tayo. Whole-of-society, whole-of-nation dapat ang approach natin,” Cayetano said.
According to Cayetano, the DOH and its attached agencies, including the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) has a proposed budget of P212.7-billion for next year.
The Senate minority bloc earlier urged other members of the Upper Chamber to realign some funds lodged in the government’s anti-insurgency program to fund the government’s COVID-19 efforts.