MANILA (UPDATE) - The Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 has expressed alarm over Senate Bill 2042, which aims to expedite the purchasing of vaccines by local government units.
The bill, authored by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, seeks to allow LGUs to directly procure vaccines from manufacturers.
HPAAC says this will cause inequity in vaccine distribution as only the rich LGUs will have the capacity to buy.
The group argues that access to COVID-19 vaccines should be based on prioritization and need, and not on the capacity to buy.
Dr. Tony Dans of HPAAC visualizes the possible scenario. "Kapag natuloy ito, posibleng magkatulakan. Kung sino may kakayanan bumili, sila mauuna."
HPAAC laid out three major arguments against the bill.
First, SB2042 will bypass the Health Technology Assessment Council. The group of doctors said vaccines should be throughly assessed by the council even after the issuance of emergency use authorization. The bill essentially skips this process.
Second, the bill may also lead towards a maldistribution of vaccines according to the capacity to pay. HPAAC argues that since global supply of vaccines isn't enough yet, there should be prioritization based on science. The healthcare workers, the elderly, and the immunocompromised must be prioritized first.
And last, the bill may also lead towards a possible price increase in vaccines. Since LGUs will be competing to buy vaccines, the central government will lose its "singular buyer" power, which may eventually lead to a price increase of vaccines.
Ultimately, the group posits that vaccine procurement should bend towards social justice, and not ability to pay.
"Paano na lang ang mga mahihirap na komunidad sa mga mahihirap na LGU?" argued Dr. Tony Dans, saying the bill will lead to inequities, with poorer LGUs being unable to get vaccines.
While the group acknowledges the vast role of LGUs, they say local government must focus more on implementation and rollout and not on procurement.
"Hindi role ng LGU na mag procure. Dapat mas pagtuunan ng pansin ang implemantation, gaya ng paghahanda ng vaccination sites, at patretrain ng mga bakunador," said Dr. Aileen Espina of HPAAC.
"Nananawagan po kami sa Senado lalo na kay Senator Zubiri na i-reconsider ang SB2042."
Senator Zubiri is yet to comment on the group's position.
In an interview on Teleradyo Friday, Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, also of HPACC, said they had reached out to the Senate to raise their concerns on the proposed measure.
"Inabot naman namin 'yong aming mga concerns. So, hopefully sila ay makinig," she said.
"The fact that we are educating the public also para bantayan natin 'tong mga bakuna natin makakatulong din," Lim added.