By Ben Rosario
The House of Representatives is adopting a very optimistic and refreshing view in the worldwide fight against the COVID 19 pandemic – it will set aside funds for the purchase of vaccines against the viral scourge.
As early as now, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said funds should “already be allocated for the COVID-19 vaccine” even as he described as “very conservative” the government plan to submit a P4.3-trillion annual budget for 2021.
Currently, pharmaceutical research laboratories in United States, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, and China, a number of them financed by the US government, are now racing to develop the first vaccine that would stop the spread of the killer virus. But so far, there remains no assurance that one will be developed anytime soon.
Still, Cayetano believes that funds should already be reserved to give Filipinos a bigger chance at getting vaccinated once an anti-COVID 19 vaccine is available.
“What if there is a vaccine and they won’t supply unless you pay at once? So the funds should already be available in the budget,” he said.
According to the House leader, a number of countries expect to develop a vaccine in about a year. He was apparently referring to various reports that the vaccine race has become very competitive worldwide.
But if research laboratories fail to produce a vaccine, the House leader said the money allocated for the program could easily be used to finance COVID-19 testing or procure medical supplies.
“They (government) won’t have to go back to Congress for additional appropriation,” Cayetano stated.
Some eports indicated that Oxford University and pharmaceutical AstraZeneca have received huge funding from Great Britain and the US.
French drugmaker Sanofi is also speeding up clinical trials of its vaccine candidate and is reportedly eyeing approval of regulatory authorities by the first six months of 2021.
Meanwhile, Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore has also joined the race and is experimenting on a vaccine candidate that uses genetic material to create an immune response in the body.
British press reported that Prince William had met patients participating in a human trial of what they claimed to be a promising COVID-19 vaccine.
With these developments, Cayetano said he and his House colleagues “want to enter 2021 fully aware that the country has to meet the challenges of COVID-19 head-on.”
Aside from the COVID-19 vaccine fund, the Lower House is also eyeing the allocation of funds for economic stimulus to help affected sectors recover from the harsh beatings they suffered during the pandemic.
“We’re already talking about what part of the 2021 budget is stimulus as well,” he said.
Such appropriations would be in addition to those that would be contained in Bayanihan 2 or the proposed “We Recover as One” law, he added.
In an interview, Cayetano revealed that the House, together with the Senate and the Department of Finance, are now close to agreeing on the final version of the proposed legislation.
“I think 80-90 percent we’ve gone over it and we already have some consensus,” he said.
Bayanihan 2 would include loans for small and medium businesses, and funds for the procurement of more testing and medical supplies, and for tourism, he said.
Part of the money would also go to the requirements of the blended learning program of the Department of Education (DepEd) under the new normal, he added.
Cayetano stressed that while Bayanihan 1 or the We Heal as One Law was very general and broad in its language, the House wants Bayanihan 2 to be more detailed.
“For example, we don’t want to allocate funds for tourism in general. We want to be more specific. Is the money for facilities, infrastructure, or is it for training of tourist guides? But we are also discussing some flexibility for the executive branch,” he said.