MANILA (UPDATE) — Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion on Sunday urged unvaccinated Filipinos to get inoculated or boosted against COVID-19, warning that millions of doses may go to waste in the middle of the year.
In a statement, Concepcion said 27 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines are set to expire in July, which he said would be a waste of "Filipino taxpayers’ money" if left unused.
"Time is of the essence. This is why I am calling it out now while there is still time before these vaccines expire," he said.
Concepcion noted that the Philippines breached the Php12-trillion mark in its debt for the first time, mainly due to borrowing to combat the pandemic.
He also warned that the country may face a "double-whammy" of a potential surge in COVID-19 cases as well as the effects of Russia's persisting invasion of Ukraine.
"By the second half of the year, the majority of the population will have waning immunity. If cases rise, we will lock down again. And if the conflict in the Ukraine drags on, we will lock down in the midst of rising commodity prices and logjams in the supply chain," Concepcion said.
"Unless we finish all the vaccines in stock and booster everybody that needs it, we risk going back to square one by yearend," he added.
Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje, chair of the National COVID-19 Vaccination Operations, said there is still an ongoing inventory on the number of vaccine doses set to expire.
But the government plans to donate the jabs nearing expiry to other countries so they would not be wasted, she said.
Cabotaje considered it a challenge to fully vaccinate 90 million people before the end of President Rodrigo Duterte's term in June.
"Aaralin natin ‘yan with much difficulty. Kailangan natin i-push. Napakalaki ng ating challenge," Cabotaje said.
(We will study that with much difficulty. We need to push for it. It's a big challenge.)
Currently, the government only allows adults or those above 18 years old to receive booster shots against the coronavirus.
More than 3 doses
The Department of Health has received reports of people taking fourth or fifth doses of COVID-19 vaccines, which are still prohibited.
The agency has asked the Food and Drug Administration to allow a fourth shot of the vaccine but only for health workers, senior citizens and persons with comorbidities.
Cabotaje warned that those caught getting a fourth dose or more may face "consequences," adding that, "kung may mangyari sa kanila, hindi tayo answerable."
(If anything happens to them, we won't be answerable.)
The Philippines has taken delivery of more than 243 million doses of different COVID-19 vaccine brands since Feb. 28, 2021.
Of those, nearly 149 million doses have been administered as of March 29, data monitored by the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group showed.
Some 65.8 million people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the Philippines, while 11.9 million have received booster doses.
The DOH has began conducting house-to-house vaccinations, prioritizing regions with low immunization coverage.