DOH counts on COVID vax still free postcrisis | Inquirer News

DOH counts on COVID vax still free postcrisis

/ 05:30 AM May 11, 2023


COVID-19 vaccines may remain available at no cost to Filipinos even if the state of public health emergency is lifted, as long as the government keeps funding the two-year-old mass inoculation program, the country’s acting health chief said on Wednesday.

But maintaining the nationwide rollout of free COVID-19 jabs, even just for vulnerable sectors, “is a decision the government has to make,” Department of Health (DOH) officer in charge Maria Rosario Vergeire told a press conference.


She said it was now a question of how long the government could afford to administer COVID-19 jabs for free or whether it should start looking at other ways to protect the public from the contagion.


“We will get to that point wherein we will subject [the program] to [a review] by the Health Technology Assessment (HTA) to determine whether it would be cost-effective for the government,” Vergeire said.

She cited earlier assessments made by the HTA for vaccines against flu and influenza under the national immunization program, which found that ultimately, it was “more cost-effective to protect [people from vaccine-preventable diseases] than to cover for hospital expenses.”


Formed in 2019, the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) is an independent advisory panel created under Republic Act No. 11223 or the Universal Health Care Act.

It conducts appraisals and guidance on health interventions and technologies that would be funded by the government. On March 6, its operations were formally turned over to the Department of Science and Technology in compliance with the law.

Commercial jabs

The health official also encouraged vaccine makers to apply for certificate of product registration (CPR) so that the private sector and physicians could gain immediate access to COVID-19 vaccines once the public health emergency status was revoked.

This would also mean that COVID-19 doses would be available for commercial use.

A CPR is a license granted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the manufacturing, distribution and sale of a medical device. All COVID-19 vaccines and medicines in the government’s inventory are currently distributed and administered under an emergency use authorization or EUA.

But in the absence of a prevailing health emergency, the FDA loses the authority to issue an EUA for COVID-19 vaccines and drugs.

On Monday, members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) gathered to decide whether the country would take its cue from the World Health Organization (WHO), which declared last week an end to COVID-19 as a “public health emergency of international concern.”

But even as pandemic advisers moved to review existing COVID-19 policies, Vergeire maintained that the “COVID-19 pandemic is not yet over” and that the Philippines, or any other nation, was not bound by the WHO declaration.

The state of public health emergency has been in force in the country since March 8, 2020, when then President Rodrigo Duterte signed Proclamation No. 220.

It remains in effect until withdrawn or lifted by the chief executive.

The proclamation was issued to facilitate the implementation of the relevant provisions to address the COVID-19 threat, including but not limited to “mandatory reporting, intensify government response and measures, and enforce quarantine and disease control prevention measures.”

State of calamity, emergency

The public emergency status is separate and distinct from the state of calamity due to the pandemic.

On March 16, 2020, Duterte signed Proclamation No. 929, declaring a state of calamity in the entire country for a period of six months “unless earlier lifted or extended as circumstances may warrant.”

This proclamation allowed the national government and the local government units to access quick response funds during emergency situations in their response efforts to contain COVID-19 and to provide basic services to the affected population.

The proclamation declaring the state of calamity was renewed twice, in September 2020 and September 2021. In September 2022, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. issued Proclamation No. 57 to maintain the status but only until Dec. 31.

Malacañang did not announce an extension of the state of calamity in the country in January despite the DOH’s request.

Based on the latest available DOH data, as of March 20, some 78.4 million, or a little over 100 percent of the government target of 78.1 million, have been fully vaccinated in the Philippines.

More than 23.8 million of them had availed themselves of the first booster shots, while 4.4 million had received their second boosters.

The DOH also revealed earlier that about 15.3 million COVID-19 jabs in the stockpile would go to waste from March to October, raising the total vaccine spoilage to almost 60 million doses by the latter part of the year.

Of the 15.3 million jabs, almost 7 million were in “quarantine,” pending the recommendation of the FDA on whether their shelf life could be extended, according to Vergeire.

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COVID-19 vaccine wastage may exceed 50 million doses by end of March — DOH

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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TAGS: Coronavirus, COVID-19, vaccine

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