Atty. Joey Lina
It certainly is good news that many local government units all over the country are now expressing willingness and financial capability to procure much-needed coronavirus vaccines for their constituents.
The enthusiasm of LGUs is a most welcome development amid uncertainties regarding the national government’s funding allotment for vaccines because the bulk of the allocation in the 2021 national budget is in the “unprogrammed funds” category which is dependent on availability of revenues and excess collections.
As I wrote previously, some senators said it is unclear how P80 billion in the vaccine budget could be funded as they expressed doubts on excess revenue collections given the pandemic.
A total of P82.5 billion has been appropriated by Congress for vaccines in the 2021 national budget, consisting of P72.5 billion in the General Appropriations Act and P10 billion in Bayanihan 2 Act. Of this total P82.5 billion, only P2.5 billion is programmed and assured of funding from government revenues.
Thus, the proactive stance of many provinces, cities, and municipalities in allocating millions of pesos in their local budgets for mass vaccination programs is laudable and timely, especially since the rollout of coronavirus vaccines already began in Western countries and supply deals between manufacturers and other nations are being worked out.
Last Thursday, it was announced that President Duterte approved a proposal to allow local governments to procure vaccines under a tripartite agreement among LGUs, the national government, and pharmaceutical companies. The agreement would be similar to the deal signed last November between the private sector, national government, and vaccine manufacturers.
“By factoring in the orders of local governments in our negotiations with these pharmaceutical companies, securing deals with them would be easier,” according to vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. who said that “the parties came together to maximize their manpower, expertise, and resources to endure a coordinated, integrated, and holistic Covid-19 immunization program.”
"With the vaccines’ limited supply and very high demand from many nations around the globe, our country needs to come up with a united strategy to obtain a bigger share of the vaccines. This is what the tripartite agreements aim to achieve," Galvez explained.
In my Teleradyo program Sagot Ko ‘Yan last Sunday, I had an enlightening talk with Quirino Governor Dakila Carlo “Dax” Cua, national president of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP), who said that shortly after word came out that President Duterte decided to allow LGUs to procure vaccines, ULAP officials discussed how to go about it.
I suggested that, because the financial capacities of LGUs vary, it’s best to form a checklist detailing which cities, for instance, are ready to buy vaccines and by how much. The provinces, cities, and municipalities having financial difficulties would then be identified, and the national government can then extend the necessary assistance.
Governor Cua said that ULAP will soon come out with a working template to serve as action plan for LGUs in their vaccination program. Various details on the implementation, such as who administers the vaccines, to whom shall it be given first, who would be the focal persons, how ground personnel would be trained, and other aspects, would form the template.
As to the percentage of population to be vaccinated to achieve the so-called herd immunity, he said most LGUs are looking at a 70 to 80 percent target. Governor Cua added that some are even eyeing 100 percent immunization, although I believe that mass immunity could be a fallacy.
Scientists and medical experts are currently divided on what percentage of the population is needed for herd immunity. Various scientific journals say that 70 to 85 percent may be the ideal proportion. With such high percentage, it would take years before our country can ever achieve herd immunity, considering our financial resources and the tight supply of vaccines amid a huge demand the world over.
But a lower 50 percent is possible for herd immunity, according to a scientific essay in The Conversation, an online publication covering the latest research on COVID-19, written by Steven Albert, a professor of behavioral and community health sciences who cited peer-reviewed data on the reproduction and growth rate of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom.
“The proportion of the population required for herd immunity depends on how infectious a virus is. This is measured by the basic reproduction number, (R0) how many people a single contagious person would infect in a susceptible population. For SARS-CoV-2, R0 is between 2 and 3.2. At that level of infectiousness, between 50% and 67% of the population would need to develop immunity through exposure or vaccination to contain the pandemic,” Albert wrote on Oct. 31, 2020.
With just 50 to 67 percent of population needed for herd immunity, our country with meager resources can have better chances. But equitable distribution of vaccines is essential. Financially capable LGUs helping out the poorer ones, with the national government going all-out to fill in the gaps, can go a long way in our collective desire to “heal as one.”