Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has renewed his push for a bigger budget for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, saying it is critical to allocate a huge amount to be able to cover more Filipinos for the mass vaccinations once these become available.
Drilon noted that only a measly P2.4 billion has been allocated by the government for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
The senator said he supports the policy direction laid out by newly appointed vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. who said the government intends to purchase an initial batch of 24 million coronavirus vaccines once they become available next year.
“We support the intention. There is a disconnect, however, between the government’s pronounced policy and the 2021 national budget,” Drilon said.
“The National Expenditures Program for 2021 has not allocated sufficient funding for distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccines,” he said.
“Obviously, the P2.4 billion earmarked for next year to purchase COVID-19 vaccines is grossly insufficient. The DoH said so that we are short of P10 billion but I believe it is way beyond that,” he added, citing huge logistical and human resource requirements.
“That is why we will be pushing for more budget for the procurement and administration of potential coronavirus vaccines. Congress has to appropriate money to buy the vaccine and the best time to do it is now while we are deliberating on the spending outlay,” he said.
Drilon also said he has qualms over the government’s readiness to administer the vaccines due to a lack of a clear distribution plan.
“Buying the vaccine is not the end-all-be-all solution. It will require substantial funding and complex logistics. Who will administer the vaccines? Should we hire additional staff? Is the current DoH (Department of Health) workforce enough to administer it to 20 million Filipinos? Where do we plan to store the vaccines?” Drilon said.
“The lack of clarity about these very critical matters will spell trouble next year,” he added.
Drilon also renewed his push for the government to actively participate in bilateral and multilateral efforts to secure immediate access to vaccines. He cited the COVAX facility, a financing mechanism that helps low- and middle-income countries get access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.
“Clearly, the budget is not enough. I am dismayed at the apparent business-as-usual approach to this. It is reflected both in the budget and the apparent lack of a comprehensive coronavirus vaccine distribution plan,” he said.
Drilon vowed to take up the issue when the Senate tackles the 2021 national budget on the floor in the coming weeks.
“It is the best opportunity to debate on this issue. We must remember that public financing ensures widespread vaccination. We cannot leave it to the private sector.”