Iloilo First District Representative Janette Garin has appealed to the Department of Health (DOH) to start giving booster doses to frontline healthcare workers (HCWs) by October.
During the briefing of the House Committee on Health hearing on the proposed 2022 budget for the DOH on Wednesday (Sept.1), Garin said there’s a “need” for frontline HCWs to be given booster shots for them to have better immunity, especially with the presence of the Delta variant.
Citing studies from other countries, Garin underscored that there has been “waning” of vaccine-induced immunity against new variants of COVID-19.
“What we’re seeing now is the reduction of transmission expected from the vaccines is not happening…because of the possible waining immunity or vaccines escape and it’s very clear that we need a third dose,” Garin said.
The solon added that while It’s true that vaccines have prevented severe illnesses, the hospitals will continuously be burned if transmission is not prevented.
“Maybe by October, we need to give them the third dose, just for our direct frontliners..because they are getting infected. We need to give them third dose because we need them to have better immunogenicity dahil mawawalan tayo ng tao, ‘yan lang po ang pakiusap ko (we will lose people, that’s just my appeal). I think the expert panel would agree to that,” Garin said.
The DOH, for its part, said they are one with the solon’s wish to inoculate frontliners with the third dose; however, studies are still being conducted on the cost-effectiveness and safety of these boosters.
“We are convening all the experts again to see based on the supplies that are forthcoming and clamor coming from our health workers and especially because of evidence, we will try to discuss this again and give some recommendations,” DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said, adding that the result of the study will be made available on September
The DOH undersecretary also said experts are still looking at whether it’s better to wait for the second generation of vaccines.
Garin, however, argued that trials on second-generation vaccines will most likely end by December 2021 or January 2022 and that they will be available in the market middle of next year.
“We cannot wait for next year because that will expose them for the next six months,” Garin said.
The Iloilo representative also questioned why the P45 billion allocation for booster shots in the agency’s proposed budget was put under “unprogrammed funds,” which according to Garin are not funded most of the time.
Garin asked the agency if there are items in the agency’s budget that can be realigned for the procurement of vaccines.
Vergeire, in response, said the DOH initially prosed a P104 billion budget to the Depaermtn of Budget and Management (DBM) on vaccine procurement, which included booster doses and second-generation vaccines.
“It was reduced to 45 billion and it was included as part of the unprogrammed funds for which we do not know why,” Vergerie said.
Garin said that based on her experience budgets are crafted as early as March and that the information on the use of booster shots may not have been available at that time.
“Be that as it may…we are in a situation where communication between the DBM, DOF (Department of Finance), DOH, should immediately be done,” Garin said.
Garin also asked the DOH to prepare a list of line items or project that they can realign for the procurement of vaccines instead.
“We have to choose yung iba nating pwede isakripsiyo (what we need to sacrifice)…because this is a matter of our survival,” garin said.
DOH Secretary Francisco Duque, for his part, assuered the commtiee that realignment will be the agency “given the compelling reasons for prioritizing” the COVID-19 vaccination program.
“We will identify projects and programs from where we can soruce the realigned funds to suport much more vigorous immunization programs against COVID,” Duque said.