DOST chief: We need more vax budget, virology institute

DOST chief: We need more vax budget, virology institute

DOST chief: We need more vax budget, virology institute

Science and Technology Sec. Renato Solidum Jr. —Inquirer file photo

MANILA, Philippines — Science and Technology Secretary Renato Solidum Jr. said on Wednesday he would support any move to increase the budget of the Department of Health (DOH) to enable it to procure updated vaccines to protect the public from the new “Flirt” variants of COVID-19.

The head of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) also called on Congress to pass the bill establishing the proposed Virology and Vaccine Institute of the Philippines to allow the government to respond more quickly to emerging diseases.


READ: DOH: No budget for new vaccines vs ‘FLiRT’ variants of COVID-19


Late on Tuesday, the DOH said it was already operating under the assumption that the Flirt variants were in the country, following a marked increase in COVID-19 cases from the previous week.

It said the University of the Philippines-Philippine Genome Center and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine were still performing whole-genome sequencing on swab samples taken from COVID-19 patients to confirm local transmission of the Flirt variants.

The variants are not considered deadly unless contracted by the elderly or people with weakened immune systems.

READ: PH virology, vaccine institute: Benefits outweigh risks

READ: Focus on benefits, manage expectations of PH virology institute

‘Likely here’

“Whether or not sequencing shows variants flagged by global health agencies, the DOH assumes the flagged Omicron subvariants (i.e. KP.2, KP.3) are already likely here, and notes that cases continue to be clinically mild and manageable,” the DOH said in a statement.


Based on DOH data from May 14 to May 20, there were 1,414 COVID-19 cases reported or a daily average of 202. This is 61.6 percent higher than the May 7 to May 13 period, when COVID-19 cases averaged 125 per day.

Interviewed at a DOST event in Manila, Solidum explained that while the monitoring and detection of COVID-19 cases fell under the DOH’s mandate, his department would continue its research on viruses, including new variants of the novel coronavirus.

The DOH earlier disclosed that the government had no budget in this year’s appropriations law to buy updated doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to counter the possible spread of the Flirt variants, driving a spike in infections worldwide.

Solidum said the DOST was in full support of any move to give more resources to the DOH.

READ: PH virology institute: What to know

Virology center

He said the bill creating a virology institute would help the country’s health sector deal with new COVID-19 variants “because the threat of the virus won’t just disappear.”

Solidum noted that the Philippines was a biologically diverse country affected by global warming and exposed to threats of zoonotic diseases, or illnesses passed from animals to humans.

“These chances [of zoonotic diseases] are very high here in the Philippines, which is why we have to be proactive and that is also the reason why we in the DOST are pushing for the establishing of our country’s own virology and vaccine institute,” he said.

The bill is among the legislative priorities of President Marcos and has been identified as one of the 20 priority bills of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council.

The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill in December 2021 but the measure is still pending in the Senate.

Flirt (or FLiRT) is an acronym coined from the technical names of the mutations that caused the family of new COVID-19 variants, usually with lineage names starting with KP or JN.

Omicron variant

There are four new variants under monitoring by the World Health Organization (WHO), namely JN.1.7, JN.1.18, KP.2 and KP.3. All these are descendants of JN.1, an offshoot of the Omicron variant.

The WHO designation signals public health authorities that a COVID-19 variant may require prioritized attention and monitoring.

The DOH earlier assured the public that there was no evidence yet that the Flirt variants were causing severe to critical COVID-19 cases.

On Monday, the government placed the country’s airports and seaports on heightened alert to screen travelers coming from countries with reported cases of the Flirt variants.

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The variants have been detected in Singapore, Thailand, India, China, Hong Kong, Nepal, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and 14 countries in Europe, including the United Kingdom.

TAGS: DoH, DOST, Renato Solidum Jr., virology

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