MANILA -- Some senators are in favor of including minors in the government’s vaccination program amid reports that many children are now also contracting COVID-19.
But while she agrees with the proposal to expand the inoculation coverage, Senator Nancy Binay said the country needs to ensure a steady supply of vaccines first.
"At this point, Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for children. Baka kasi paasahin na naman ang marami sa wala. The focus should be directed to the vulnerable sectors," Binay said in a statement.
"'Yung mga di pa nababakunahan--jeepney and bus drivers, street vendors, yung mga nasa frontline-backend service industries at marami pa including senior citizens and those with comorbidities who have to go out of their homes to work. Confronted with the vaccine shortage, hindi rin fair na pag-usapan na ang bakuna sa mga minor nang di pa nabibigyan ng bakuna yung nasa priority age groups" she added.
Senator Risa Hontiveros urged the government to "be diligent" in anticipating the requirement to procure vaccines for children.
"Children's safety should be our highest priority. We hope vaccine manufacturers will invest more on pediatric trials to resolve safety issues. So far, the WHO has confirmed that only 1 brand is suitable for use on people aged 12 and above, and such brand should be made available to the children who are at high risk," Hontiveros said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon in a separate statement said the 2021 national budget only covers the vaccination of the 70 million Filipinos in the target populations, and that does not include minors.
But in the event that the government expands the vaccination program to include children, the Duterte administration can source funds from "undisbursed budget items" like the P11 billion unutilized funds in the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC), Drilon said.
The government can also source funds from the National Task Force to end Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), he said.
"There are enough undisbursed budget items in the 2020 and 2021 GAAs and the GOCCs that can be realigned to vaccine purchases until Dec. 31, 2021. The DOF (Department of Finance) must do a cash sweep as it did last year. For example, COA (Commission on Audit) found that there is about P11 billion lying idle in PITC as of Dec. 31, 2021, up from P9.1B in December 2019. Why is P11 billion parked in PITC so sacred?"
"Plus, government must prioritize funding and releases of social services, including vaccine procurement and ayuda, instead of non-essential budgets such as the P16.4 billion released to NTF-ELCAC from March-June, 2021," he said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson meanwhile is suggesting that the Duterte administration now include such would-be budget requirements to the national expenditure program (NEP) before the executive branch submits it to Congress.
"Instead of a supplemental budget, the NEP can already include the additional funding requirements in case they can implement in 2022. If not included in the President’s budget, Congress can realign through amendments," Lacson said.
But as far as Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto is concerned, the government still has sufficient funds for vaccine procurement, since most of the vaccines that have arrived in the country are donations.
And as the government prepares for another round of vaccine procurement next year, Recto calls on the administration to buy the one with higher efficacy.
"Government should balance our vaccine procurement. We should procure more effective vaccines and not rely on Sinovac for most of our vaccines. There are reports that Sinovac is less effective against delta variant," Recto said.
Senate Committee on Finance Chair Sonny Angara said it’s about time that the government include children in the vaccination program.
"I think ang original idea sa budget is adults lang, although dapat isama na mga bata especially given the new variants tulad ng Delta. Baka pwedeng pag-aralan ang supplemental budget or i-prioritize ito sa 2022 budget,” he said.
As of Sunday, nearly 24.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the country. The number of those fully vaccinated is 11.4 million, or 16.1 percent of the target 70.85 million adult Filipinos, according to the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group.
The Philippines has so far received more than 38.6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, broken down as follows:
- 22.8 million doses (59%) were procured by national and local governments, as well as the private sector
- 13.3 million doses (34%) were through the COVAX facility (including the 3.2 million Johnson & Johnson and 3 million Moderna vaccine doses from the US government)
- 2.5 million doses (7%) were directly donated by China, Japan, and the UK to the Philippine government
Of the deliveries, more than half are Sinovac vaccines (53 percent or 20.5 million), the ABS-CBN IRG said.
The rest are the following:
- 19% are from AstraZeneca (7.27 million doses)
- 10% are from Moderna
- 9% are from Pfizer
- 8% are from Johnson & Johnson
- 1%: Sputnik V
The country has recorded a total of 1,667,714 confirmed COVID-19 cases, as of Monday, of which, 78,480 or 4.7 percent are active.