The House of Representatives has allocated P20 billion for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots, said House committee on appropriations chairman Rep.Eric Yap, as the chamber is set to transmit its proposed budget amendments to the Senate on Oct. 27.
In a statement, Yap said the next year’s P5.024 trillion national budget is crucial as it is geared towards the country’s full recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are grateful to Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, to Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, to the Vice Chairpersons and Members of the Appropriations Committee, and to our Honorable Members for their active participation during the deliberations and for their efforts in ensuring the timely passage of House Bill No. 10153,” Yap said.
“Our commitment remains the same: to provide the enabling mechanisms for a responsive and dynamic governance and to strengthen the capabilities of the government in addressing the effects of the pandemic. Rest assured that the government’s battle strategy on health and nutrition, social protection, governance, and development, are carried out in this budget,” he added.
The House met its self-imposed deadline last Sept. 30 when it passed on third and final reading the proposed P5.024-trillion 2022 national budget that was certified as urgent by President Duterte.
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said the 2022 money measure is focused on getting the Philippines back on the road towards full recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.
Aside from the P20 billion for the purchase of vaccines and booster shots, Yap said P4.5 billion was also allocated for the special risk allowances of qualified public and private health workers.
The Department of Health earlier asked Congress for at least P49 billion to fund the Special Risk Allowances of more than 500,000 health care workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Palace-approved DOH budget was placed at P242.22-billion.
Yap also said a total of P5 billion was allocated for medical assistance to indigent patients, including the hospitalization and assistance to poor patients.
In its final version of the proposed amendments to the 2022 national budget, the House allocated P10 billion for the Department of Labor and Employment’s Tulong Pangkabuhayan sa Ating Disadvantaged or Displaced Workers Program (TUPAD).
Similarly, another P10 billion was allocated for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD’s) Assistance to Individuals in Situation (AICS), which includes food assistance, food packs, transportation, medical, burial assistance, assistance to students, cash or food for work and other assistance to individuals, sectors, communities in especially difficult circumstances.
The agency’s Sustainable Livelihood Program is proposed to get P1 billion, which will enable each qualified household beneficiary to enroll in two different tracks, the Micro-Enterprise Development and the Employment Facilitation through technical and vocational skills training.
Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation’s service contracting program under the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board was given P6 billion, which will give assistance to transport drivers and operators adversely affected by the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III backed a proposal to give COVID-19 booster shots to health care workers after a wider coverage for the vaccine rollout has been achieved.
I’m pushing for it, but the all-experts group [says] we have to ensure that a bigger percentage of the population must receive the primary series of vaccines,” Duque said in an interview on ANC’s Headstart.
Only 30 percent of the population have complete immunization against COVID-19 and about 34 percent have received their first dose of the vaccine, Duque said.
He also noted that coverage of the vaccine rollout outside Metro Manila is still low.
A study by Chinese researchers published in July found out that antibodies triggered by Sinovac Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine declined below a key threshold from around six months after a second dose for most recipients, although a third shot had a strong booster effect.
However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it does not see any waning effects of COVID-19 vaccines administered in the country even after almost six months.
FDA Director-General Eric Domingo said there is no need for booster shots at this time.
A survey conducted by the Department of Health (DOH) last month showed that over 90 percent of healthcare workers are willing to get a booster shot if it is proven effective and recommended by experts.
The Philippines may consider giving the supplementary shot in November or December as more doses arrive in the country, said vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr.
Also on Thursday, Palace spokesman Harry Roque said there is no need for mandatory vaccination as most Filipinos are willing to get inoculated.
San Jose del Monte City Rep. Rida Robes earlier filed a bill that mandates the administration of COVID-19 vaccines to all Filipinos and residents of the Philippines who are eligible to receive
the vaccine. Those who refuse will be penalized with imprisonment or a P10,000 fine.
The President, meanwhile, renewed his appeal to people who are afraid to get vaccinated, saying the vaccine will protect them against COVID-19.
Also on Thursday, Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda renewed his call for more vaccines for Bicol in the wake of reports that only 10 percent of the targeted population in the region have been vaccinated.
Salceda, the chairman of the House committee on ways and means, said the 10 percent vaccination rate was “among the lowest in the country.”
“We need help,” said Salceda, as he warned that th e“lack of vaccines could threaten the strength of our response.”