MANILA - The Duterte administration has enough funds to procure COVID-19 vaccines that can be used on up to 70 million individuals to be able to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Tuesday.
The lawmaker reached the conclusion during the Senate Committee of the Whole's hearing on how government is spending its P82.5-billion COVID-19 vaccination program fund. The hearing comes as Malacanang seeks an additional P25 billion-budget for its inoculation program.
“Now, with total borrowings of P57.3 billion, as revealed by (Finance) Sec. (Carlos) Dominguez, may excess pa tayong P5 billion, to achieve herd immunity. So you don’t need any money for achieving herd immunity, at least for 2021. Because yun target n'yo lang 12-15 years old in 2022, yung P20-25 billion,” said Lacson.
“So money is not the problem here. Ang kailangan na lang talaga dito, makapag-procure tayo ng vaccines at i-roll out. And ergo, we can easily achieve herd immunity,” he added.
According to Dominguez, vaccines bought by the government cost around $6.75 to $27.59 per dose, or a little over P300 to P1,300.
He said COVID-19 jabs being administered are either donated, paid for by loans, or procured using government funds.
The finance chief said government is looking to acquire seven brands of COVID-19 vaccine.
“Bulk of our funds used… comes from loans from our multilateral partners. We deliberately chose these financial strategies to ensure two things - that the vaccine we buy are internationally accepted and have passed the stringent criteria for safety and effectiveness, (and) that the vaccine procurement is totally transparent,” said Dominguez.
The country's vaccine czar, Sec. Carlito Galvez, Jr., clarified that the additional P25 billion budget being requested is meant to bankroll the inoculation of 12- to 15-year-olds.
Responding to a question from Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Galvez said the additional P25 billion is not needed this year.
"It’s for the future, 2022 budget,” Galvez said.
According to him, the government, so far, is able to inoculate 130,000 to 140,000 individuals daily, and the pace is picking up, with government vaccinating over 982,000 from June 7 to 13.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, however, is not convinced that government can hit its vaccination target.
“To be able to inoculate 133 million doses for the next six months, you need to inoculate 22 million per month or roughly 730,000 a day. Sa tingin ba natin, talagang matatapos natin 'yan by the end of the year?” Recto asked.
“Based on our simulation, Sir, we need to inoculate at least 500,000 a day during the third quarter, and 740,000 a day during the fourth quarter because it is increasing,” Galvez said.
Meanwhile, the demand of health care workers to receive their unpaid overtime pay, risk and other allowances remain unresolved.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said they need P66 billion to settle those.
“Meron ho tayong gap. Kaya we are asking for a supplemental budget under Bayanihan 3 kung magkakaroon ho, kung maipapasok lahat yan,” said Duque.
The supplemental budget will also be used to pay contact tracers and rent of facilities being used by the government.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, grilled government officials on their basis for the mandatory use of face shield.
Duque said there are studies supporting the effectiveness of face shield in protecting a person from contracting COVID-19.
“Have you considered the discontinuing of face shield? Because until now, there are no scientific study on the efficacy of face shield. Hindi ba sa mga hospital lang dapat ginagamit ang face shield?” asked Sotto.
“All persons are mandated to wear facial protection. Pero as I’ve said, Sir, wala hong penal provision kung hindi po sumunod,” Duque replied.
“Sa minimum health standards, wearing of masks po talaga yung required. Yung face shield is just to provide added protection. Because based on studies, kung biglang umubo o bumahing, at least 96% protected ka sa aerosol with a face shield. Sa ating LGUs, sa ating ordinances, makikita natin, wala pong penalty provision for the face shield, but only for not wearing the mask,” added DILG Secretary Eduardo Año, a COVID-19 survivor.
“We are very emphatic na pagka-meeting indoors, offices, there’s a need to wear face shield because it provides added protection.”
Año said a face shield is only being required to be worn when riding a public transport, or entering a closed venue or establishment.
The Senate directed the DOH to submit its basis for recommending the use of face shield, and the list of countries that are using it to combat COVID-19.