Recto pushing for at least P100B in vaccine funding
MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Monday pressed for at least P100 billion in funding for the purchase of coronavirus vaccines next year—over five times bigger than the proposed P18 billion in the 2021 spending bill.
Recto said the Philippines would need that amount at the minimum to ensure that a sufficient proportion of the country’s 105 million people would be inoculated against COVID-19.
He also noted the considerable logistical costs in distributing and administering the vaccine.
The senator made the push at the resumption of Senate plenary budget debates on the P4.5-trillion general appropriations bill (GAB), which set aside only P8 billion in programmed appropriations and another P10 billion in unprogrammed funds for the mass vaccination program.
Another P10 billion in standby funding has also been earmarked for the yet-to-be-approved COVID-19 vaccine in the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2.
“So if we extend the validity of Bayanihan 2, that’s P28 billion,” Recto said.
But he said the amount would still be too little since the distribution costs could be “easily twice more” than the actual price of the vaccine.
Recto cited Pfizer’s estimate of $40, or a bit less than P2,000, for two doses of its vaccine, which is still undergoing trials and requires being kept in subzero temperatures during transit.
“To inoculate 50 million people [in a year], you need to inoculate 150,000 a day. It’s a huge logistical requirement,” the Senate leader said.
“Chances are we will need at least two doses. For herd immunity, we need at least 60 percent of the population or 60 million,” he said.
Taking away young people who were “less susceptible,” that would leave about 54 million people in need of two doses of a vaccine costing P1,000 each, he added.
“That’s a requirement of P108 billion and counting,” Recto said. “Shouldn’t we provide the appropriation of at least P100 billion?”
He said that would go a long way toward inspiring confidence among the people that the government was serious about eliminating the COVID-19 threat.
“If we can tell them, at least in [the] Senate version, we’re providing the amounts necessary to inoculate our people, especially our workers 18 years and and above, we’re putting sufficient funds, even if we have to take out a loan, that would be good for the economy,” Recto said.
The budget sponsor, Senate finance chair Juan Edgardo Angara, said in response, “philosophically, I agree, subject to the amount.”
The number of new infections has remained relatively stable, at least for now, despite the series of typhoons that hit the country over the last two weeks.
According to Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, the Department of Health (DOH) has not seen a sudden change in the trend of new cases, particularly after Luzon island was devastated by Typhoon “Rolly” (international name: Goni), which swept into the country on Oct. 31 and left three days later.
Vergeire said 26 laboratories were unable to send in their data due to the storm, and this caused reported cases to drop to below a thousand. But when all of them resumed operations, she noted, there was “no sudden increase in the cases reported daily.”
“Though there is that threat of storms affecting the operation of our laboratories, we can see that the reporting of laboratories remains the same,” Vergeire said.
Over the last few weeks, the DOH has observed that the average number of new cases had stabilized to less than 2,000, she said, adding that the health system capacity of most areas in the country was in the “safe zone.”
“If we compare our situation now to that of in July and August, we can see there is a decreasing trend in the number of cases, an increasing availability of resources, and the clustering of cases in previously identified hot spots are also gone,” Vergeire said.
“Considering all these factors, we can say that this is a good indication when it comes to the situation of COVID-19 in the Philippines,” she added.
But at the same time she warned that “this is not the time to be complacent. Just because we are seeing cases decline doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be vigilant anymore and not continue our compliance with the minimum health standards.”
“If we will continue our strict compliance with the minimum health standards then we can live with the virus. Hopefully in the coming months, cases will continue to decline and our health system’s capacity will continue to increase so we can have this new normal that we talk about,” Vergeire said.
Virus case update
On Monday, the DOH logged an additional 1,738 cases, bringing the national tally to 409,574. Davao City reported the most number of new infections with 140, followed by Cavite (117), Rizal (89), Laguna (87) and Batangas (79).
A total of 374,366 patients have recovered from COVID-19 with the addition of 45 more patients. The death toll was 7,839 as seven patients succumbed to the severe respiratory disease.
The recoveries and deaths left the country with 27,369 active cases, or 6.7 percent of the total, of which 83 percent are mild, 8.5 percent asymptomatic, 0.2 percent are moderate, 3 percent severe and 5.3 percent critical.
DOH data showed that from Nov. 1 to Nov. 14, 200 areas of clustering were detected. The figure is fewer by 16 areas when compared to the Oct. 1 to Oct. 14 period.
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