Only about 2 million people out of the Philippines' 109.48 million population have been fully inoculated against COVID-19, almost three months after the national government started its vaccination program, Health Undersecretary and treatment czar Leopoldo Vega said Sunday.
"This will take a long time because we know that as of now, we have only fully vaccinated around 2 percent of our population. That's far before the end of the year on vaccinating 50 percent to 70 percent of (the population)," Vega said in a mix of Filipino and English during an interview on Dobol B TV.
To hit that target, Vega said, the government would have to vaccinate 500,000 people daily.
But the inadequate supply of vaccines is a drag on the vaccination process, he said.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. had earlier apologized for the delays in the delivery of vaccines to some local government units (LGUs).
About 10 million doses of vaccines against COVID-19 will be delivered in June and 11 million more will arrive in July, Galvez said.
At the onset of 2020, the Philippine population stood at 109.48 million, and is projected to hit 110.88 million by the end of 2021, based on government data.
Vega said that transportation and temperature concerns are among factors contributing to the delayed delivery of vaccines in some provinces.
Vega said AstraZeneca, Sinovac and other vaccine brands that are not sensitive to storage temperatures should be brought to far-flung areas in the country.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon asked the government to provide a full accounting of its P82.5 billion COVID-19 vaccine procurement budget before it asks for more funds.
He also urged the government to be more transparent about the pricing of vaccines to strengthen public confidence in the vaccination program.
“How many vaccines do we really need? How many have arrived so far?
How many of these are donated? How many did the national government buy and at what price?” Is it the correct price?” Drilon asked.
In an interview over DZBB, Drilon said these are not small amounts.
"We need transparency in government spending. This is public money. We borrowed this,” Drilon said.
"It will also boost public confidence that public funds are spent correctly, especially as the election approaches," he said.
Senator Panfilo M. Lacson also demanded transparency from the government's health authorities over the supposed need for an additional P25 billion to procure COVID-19 vaccines.
He warned that the P25 billion additional budget for COVID-19 vaccines could trigger an oversupply or worse, get lost to corruption.
The P25 billion plus the existing P82.5 billion appropriated would come to P107.5 billion—way too much to buy vaccines needed to achieve herd immunity, Lacson said.
The 2021 General Appropriations Act earmarked P72.5 billion for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines.
However, only P2.5 billion, out of the P72.5 billion, is funded. The remaining P70 billion is part of the unprogrammed funds. Another P10 billion is allocated under the Bayanihan 2 law, bringing the total COVID-10 vaccine budget to P82.5 billion.
The government recently said it may need an additional P25 billion this year to buy more vaccines and another P55 billion next year for “booster shots.”
“We need the crucial information on the procurement side: what we’re buying, what brand, from whom, at what price and quantity,” Drilon said.
“The lack of transparency also contributes to the problem of vaccine hesitancy,” he added.
Drilon asked vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez to provide the
Senate a consolidated report on vaccine procurement by the national government, local government units and the private sector.
The minority leader also said he hopes the government can speed up its vaccination program, which he criticized as slow.
An efficient vaccination program is key to the country’s economic recovery, Drilon said.
“If the vaccination is too slow, our economic recovery would be slow too,” he said. “If our economic recovery is slow, then those who lost their jobs will not be able to return to work.”
He noted that as of May 31, 2021, 5,248,358 doses have been administered. Of these, 4,003,776 people received the first dose, while 1,244, 582 million completed the required two doses.
Drilon said the government should allow local government units and the private sector to buy the vaccines directly from the manufacturers to speed up the procurement and administration of COVID-19 vaccines.
He also advised the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to give incentives or rewards to barangays which are able to convince the residents to get the much-needed shots to address vaccine hesitancy.
The Department of Health (DOH) said Saturday the turnout of the elderly for COVID-19 vaccinations remains low because many of them have trouble getting to the sites.
Spokesperson and DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said senior citizens, who are at high risk of infection, still fear leaving their homes.
“One of the reasons we see is not just hesitancy to the vaccine itself–part of this is because they are afraid of going out or that they are already bedridden,” Vergeire said in Filipino, during a press briefing.
Around 5 percent of the country's 8 million senior citizens have already been vaccinated, she said.
Vergeire said one solution to this would be house-to-house vaccination visits by local government units.
Senior citizens who are considered “high-risk” for getting infected are listed as a second priority for vaccination, just behind medical frontliners in the country's COVID-19 vaccination program.
Vergeire acknowledged that some processes in the vaccination program need to be improved as essential workers or those in the A4 priority group begin to get their jabs against COVID-19.
Vergeire said among points for improvement in vaccination is imposing a scheduling policy to avoid crowding.
Another challenge is the supply, as more people express interest in getting vaccinated, she said.
Long lines were seen around vaccination sites in Metro Manila as the government extended the national vaccination program to essential workers, or the A4 category last week.
Some LGUs outside Metro Manila have not started as they have not received sufficient supply to vaccinate people in these categories.
According to government records, some 98 percent of vaccines have already been distributed. The remainder are buffer stocks in case vaccines run short. However, Vergeire said these are "really very few."
"The overall challenge is the supply… As much as we want to extend our vaccine drive, our supplies are not yet stable and definitely it's a challenge to all of us,” Vergeire said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Meanwhile, a virus expert said a longer interval between doses of COVID-19 vaccines would allow more time for antibodies to develop.
Vaccine Development Expert Panel head Dr. Nina Gloriani advised those who missed their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine need not worry about restarting the vaccine process.
Gloriani said that missing the second dose for a period of three months is no big deal.
“The longer the interval, the more time is afforded to antibodies to develop,” Gloriani said in an interview on state-run PTV.
She said that if the second dose is given at a later time, one does not need to restart the vaccine process.
She noted that those who got infected with COVID-19 after receiving the first dose are still eligible for a second dose as long as the patient is fully recovered.
Earlier, infectious disease expert Dr. Edsel Salvana said that not getting the second dose on schedule does not negate the first dose.
But, Salvana said it is better to get the second dose on time to get the full protection provided by the vaccine.