MANILA (4th UPDATE) — Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday said she has filed a resolution seeking to investigate reports of "unused and expired COVID-19 vaccines" that could amount to wastage "equivalent to a whopping P5 billion to P13 billion."
Hontiveros cited "various reports" that between April to July this year, it is possible there were 4 to 27 million unused and expired COVID-19 vaccine doses bound to be thrown away.
"Of course, may mga vaccines na alam nating hindi magagamit dahil sa iba’t ibang dahilan. May margin of error naman talaga. But in this case, goodbye agad sa halagang bilyun-bilyong piso? Mukhang magtatapon tayo ng pera at bakuna sa kabila ng mabilis na namang pagtaas ng mga COVID-19 cases," the senator said.
(Of course, we know there are vaccines that cannot be used for various reasons. There is a margin of error. But in this case, are we just saying goodbye to billions of pesos? It seems like we will be throwing away money and vaccines, despite the spike in COVID-19 cases.)
Hontiveros said the investigation aims to determine what caused the alleged wastage so that it could be addressed.
"Saan ba nagkamali o nagkulang sa proseso? Sa pagplano o sa pagbili? Sa roll out ba? Sa paglabas ng mga guidelines?"
(Where did we make a mistake or fall short in the process? In the planning or the procurement? The rollout? In the release of guidelines?)
Hontiveros added that officials of the inter-agency task force on COVID-19 should explain the alleged vaccine wastage.
Hontiveros is expecting a possible joint investigation by the Senate blue ribbon and health committees.
Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, the health committee chairman, assured Hontiveros of his panel’s immediate calendaring of her request for probe.
In a TeleRadyo interview, Hontiveros disagreed that vaccine-hesitant Filipinos led to the wastage of jabs.
"Paanong mangyayari 'yan na dahilan eh nasa 70 million na nating mga Pilipino ang nakatanggap ng vaccine?" she said.
(How could this happen when 70 million Filipinos have received their vaccine?)
Hontiveros lamented the expired vaccines were a waste of taxpayers' money amid the ongoing pandemic and looming recession.
"Talaga bang handa tayong mag-goodbye na lang agad sa ganiyang halagang bilyon-bilyong peso at ganiyang milyon-milyong piraso ng bakuna?" she said.
"'Yan ba talaga ang inaasahan nilang reaksiyon mula sa atin pagkatapos nating malaman ang ganiyang kalalaking numero?"
(Should we say goodbye easily to billions worth of pesos and millions of vaccine shots? Is that what they want from us after learning about this?)
Last week, former Palace adviser Joey Concepcion claimed the private sector lost a total of P5.1 billion from some 4.2 million expired COVID-19 vaccines. He blamed the Department of Health and the Health Technology Assessment Council's (HTAC) "belated decision" to expand the second booster vaccination.
But the HTAC said denied that supposed delays in the booster expansion led to the alleged vaccine wastage.
"These are the same vaccines that were available for the first booster and even the primary series. So, hindi dahil sa ngayon lang in-approve ang second booster kaya nagkaroon tayo ng expired doses kung hindi dahil nagkaroon tayo ng gaps sa pagro-rollout or pagtanggap ng mga tao," HTAC member Dr. Anna Lisa Ong-Lim said last week.
(We did not have expired doses just because the second booster was only approved recently, but because we had gaps in the rollout or the public uptake.)
Meanwhile, Sen. Imee Marcos urged the DOH to immediately make use of its booster shots nearing expiry.
"Mawawalan na ng bisa ang nasa P5-bilyon binili nating mga booster gaya ng Moderna... Ipamigay na 'yan para mapakinabangan kaysa mabasura na lang, please lang," Marcos said.
(Some P5 billion worth of boosters like Moderna will expire. Distribute that so it can be used instead of going to waste.)
DOH says ready to answer probe
The DOH is ready to answer any inquiries or investigations, said its officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire.
"Handa naman pong sumagot sa kahit anong katanungan o kaya imbestigasyon ukol sa ating avccine dpeloyment program," she told reporters on Friday.
The country's vaccine wastage is currently "less than 10 percent" which is the threshold set by the World Health Organization, she said.
The figure includes not only expired vaccines, but also broken vials, those with particulate matter, and those destroyed in calamities, she added.
The government aims to administer booster jabs to 23 million eligible individuals within the first 100 days of the Marcos administration.
A total of 71.8 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated as of Friday, Vergeire said. Of the total figure, 16.4 million have received an additional dose, while 1.4 million have received a second booster, she added.
The country's COVID-19 vaccination program started on March 1, 2021, more than a year since the first case of the disease was confirmed by the Department of Health.
As of Tuesday, the Philippines has logged 3,782,822 overall confirmed COVID-19 cases, of which, 32,099 were active.
—With a report from Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News
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