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‘Money’s not the problem:’ Senators call on gov’t to improve vaccine rollout

/ 10:59 PM June 15, 2021
Vaccination sites

Vaccination sites offering the US-made Pfizer jabs have been drawing large crowds, such as this one outside the Prince Hotel in Ermita, Manila. Authorities have warned against potential superspreader events as the government ramps up the rollout of vaccines. (File photo by MARIANNE BERMUDEZ / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — Several senators on Tuesday called on the government to focus on improving its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, saying it had more than enough funds this year to achieve herd immunity.

During the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing, Sen. Panfilo Lacson cited figures given by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III indicating that the government had P5 billion more than the needed amount to accomplish herd immunity in 2021.

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Before this, Dominguez told the Senate that the average cost of the vaccines procured by the government was P398 per dose with P48 in logistical cost per shot.

Lacson noted that the government would need P52.343 billion to buy 117,361,601 target doses at P446 per dose, including the logistical cost, in order to achieve herd immunity — that is, the inoculation of 70 percent of the population.

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“We have already secured P57.3 billion through borrowings. So we have a surplus of P5 billion for herd immunity,” Lacson said. “So money is not the problem here. What is really needed is the procurement of vaccines and their rollout.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III agreed with Lacson, saying: “The bottom line is the rollout.”

Lacson also took note of the figures presented by Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., the country’s vaccine manager, to the Senate that the Philippines would be getting 68 million free doses, including 44 million from the COVAX facility and 24 million donated doses from by two manufacturers.

This means that the government would only need to pay for 49 million doses to achieve herd immunity, according to Lacson.

The Senate Committee of the Whole hearing was conducted after Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado mentioned a possible need for an additional P25 billion for the purchase of vaccines in anticipation of the possible expansion of the inoculation program to minors.

But Dominguez said the funding will only be needed next year.

“So you don’t need any money for achieving herd immunity—  at least in 2021,” Lacson told government officials.

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Meanwhile, Sen. Imee Marcos said the government should formulate “clearer strategies” that would increase public acceptance of vaccines in order to fast-track economic recovery.

“We have the money for vaccines. But vaccination hesitancy remains a challenge and may lead to a greater wastage of vaccines and government funds than the incidence of poor cold storage. Without herd immunity, economic recovery will be choppy,” Marcos, head of the Senate economic affairs committee, said in a statement.

She also called on the government to “determine where it should conduct more aggressive information campaigns which are tailored to the language, unique customs and belief systems of the local government unit concerned.”

“For instance, an emphasis that vaccines are halal may be needed in the BARMM, or that a certain vaccine has already been administered in Muslim countries,” she added.

The senator, who also chairs the Senate electoral reforms panel, underscored the need to ramp up vaccination acceptance and immunity in order for more voters to register “so that next year’s elections truly reflect who we want to lead us through this health crisis towards economic recovery.”

Marcos, meanwhile, urged the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to “draw up a Plan B, in case vaccine suppliers renege on their commitments to the Philippines this year.”

She also took note of a recent pledge by G7 leaders to supply at least a billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries.

“Many Western nations are playing catch-up after China’s headstart in vaccine diplomacy,” Marcos said of the G7, which is composed of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

“The G7 pledge for 2022 implies that vaccines we are buying this year can be produced and delivered. But the IATF must constantly follow up on foreign commitments to preempt and remedy any more delays in the original timeline to fully vaccinate 70% of Filipinos,” she added.

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TAGS: COVID-19 Vaccines, Imee Marcos, Panfilo Lacson, Vicente Sotto III
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