MANILA (UPDATED)— The Department of Budget and Management on Thursday told the House of Representatives there are no funds available yet for the P45 billion allotted for COVID-19 booster shots under the government’s proposed 2022 budget.
This, as lawmakers have started examining government’s spending priorities in 2022 with the House Committee on Appropriations starting deliberations on next year's National Expenditure Program.
During her interpellation, Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo pointed out that the budget for the booster shots is lodged in the unprogrammed funds of the spending plan, which means these can only be released once there would be available funds.
“In case na hindi natin makamit ang growth na expected at hindi natin makamit ang revenue collection na expected, ang isa sa pinakamatatamaan ay ang COVID-19 vaccines na pinagtatakahan ko na para bang chicken or egg situation,” Quimbo said.
(I am worried that the budget for COVID-19 vaccines would be affected once the revenue collection is not hit, and it makes me wonder, it's like a chicken or egg situation.)
“Kasi ang sinasabi natin na para tayo ay maka-recover economically, kailangan natin ng vaccine. Pero bakit nilagay natin sa unprogrammed ang COVID-19 [booster shots],” the lawmaker added.
(We always say we would be able to recover economically once we have vaccines. But why did we put COVID-19 booster shots under unprogrammed funds.)
But Undersecretary Tina Canda, DBM’s officer-in-charge, explained that there is no final word yet on whether booster shots will be deployed.
The decision on booster shots, according to Canda, still depends on the Department of Health (DOH).
As of early August, the DOH has said COVID-19 booster shots are still prohibited due to the country’s limited virus jabs. The country is prioritizing the elderly, health workers, economic frontliners, and the poor in its inoculation rollout.
“Now for the P45 billion na nakalagay sa budget na 'yan (The P45 billion in the budget)is only for the booster shot in the absence of any definitive ruling from the DOH that it is a requirement at this point,” Canda said.
“Hindi namin siya binigyan dahil hindi pa namin sigurado kung talagang kailangan ‘yan kasi wala namang assurance na kailangan ‘yun,” she added.
(We did not allot a budget for it initially because we are unsure yet when the booster shots would be needed. There’s no assurance yet)
The official also explained that theoretically, items in the unprogrammed funds of the budget will be mostly affected if the government is short of cash.
There is about P151 billion in unprogrammed funds in the 2022 budget.
Canda, however, told Quimbo that there is already funding for regular vaccinations.
Former health secretary and now Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin also pushed for the funds to be transferred to the regular line item instead.
Garin said the booster shots could prevent the impact of emerging COVID-19 variants.
"If I may appeal for economic managers that the budget for vaccines be instead put in a line item budget. Hindi po totoo that we don't need a 3rd dose. But a booster dose might be needed if the impact of 3 doses will be short term of additional variants after Delta and Lambda," she explained.
The World Health Organization earlier said that current data does not indicate that COVID-19 booster shots are already needed. Booster vaccinations have started in other parts of the world amid the continuing spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.