Senators have agreed to increase the funds for procurement, storage and distribution of vaccines for COVID-19 under the 2021 national budget, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Sunday, without specifying any amount.
Under the proposed budget of the Department of Health (DOH), the funding for the COVID-19 vaccination program is about P2.5 billion.
Even before Sotto's confirmation that the budget would be augmented, some senators had called for the vaccine budget to be increased.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto sought at least P100 billion in funding for the purchase of coronavirus vaccines next year.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said the P2.5 billion will only cover the vaccination of 3.9 million Filipinos and that the DOH would need at least P10 billion for the vaccines.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the budget earmarked for the purchase of the vaccines is “grossly insufficient,” noting that the vaccination drive would also require huge logistical and human resource requirements.
Senator Christopher Go emphasized the need for a systematic and comprehensive national COVID-19 vaccination program. He said the poor and vulnerable sectors must be given priority.
Given positive developments on the potential vaccine to fight COVID-19, Go emphasized the need to plan, communicate and implement a national vaccination program to guarantee equitable access and systematic provision once safe and effective vaccines are made available.
Aside from ensuring enough funds to procure vaccines, Go also called on the government to fully implement a nationwide information and education campaign regarding the vaccination plan.
Go said that while all countries have been caught by surprise by the worldwide spread and adverse impact of the pandemic, health experts and government authorities have enough time to properly plan and implement a national vaccination program.
Senator Imee Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on economic affairs, urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to use its clout to start a new way of doing business in the manufacture, patenting, pricing, and distribution of vaccines for Covid-19 and future pandemics.
Marcos said the ASEAN gained more influence as a trade bloc after its 10 member nations signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement last week with five non-member states including Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
“The RCEP represents about a third of the world’s population and global GDP,” Marcos said.
“We need a global accord on Covid-19 vaccines, a standard ceiling on vaccine prices, diversified manufacturing and supply in all world regions,” Marcos said.
“The ASEAN can initiate a new normal for patents and copyrights, a world order of fairness, compassion and commitment to the common good,” Marcos added.
As the G20 met this weekend to address the Covid-19 pandemic, Marcos said the ASEAN must hold the group comprising the European Union and 19 member states to its official statement in March to “spare no effort, both individually and collectively, to protect lives and safeguard people’s jobs and incomes.”
“Less developed countries remain at the mercy of global pharmaceutical firms that hold the patents and dictate the prices of vaccines,” Marcos said.
“Pharmaceutical firms must not forget the priceless role of human participation in vaccine trials. No vaccine could be created without it, so it’s about time they give back to the people of the world,” Marcos added.
A health reform advocate, meanwhile, said the government must exert more effort in promoting its vaccination campaigns, not only for COVID-19, but for other diseases as well, after the Dengvaxia scare dampened public confidence in government immunization efforts.
“That fear started from the sad story of our Dengvaxia fiasco. They rushed it. That was a safety issue. It did not go through the medical community but straight to DepEd.,” said Dr. Tony Leachon, in an interview on ABS-CBN News.
Leachon was referring to the anti-dengue vaccine that was reported to cause severe symptoms when administered on those who have never had the mosquito-borne disease.
“If 66 percent are willing to be vaccinated and 33 percent are not, there is a need to do more about the vaccination campaign as the Dengvaxia controversy has a halo effect on measles, pneumonia and other vaccines,” Leachon said in Filipino. “That’s why there was a surge in measles, in polio-diseases that have been eradicated so many years ago.”
Also on Sunday, Senator Panfilo Lacson said he had received a vaccine against COVID-19—but later said it was just a joke.
Lacson made the remark a day after Senate President Vicente Sotto III claimed that he and House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez had been injected with a COVID-19 vaccine and that they were immune from the disease.
Although Lacson said he was joking, he would not say if he had actually been innoculated.