DOH's P2.5 billion for COVID vaccines feared not enough to cover 20 million Filipinos
AFP/Johannes Eisele, file

DOH's P2.5 billion for COVID vaccines feared not enough to cover 20 million Filipinos

Christian Deiparine (Philstar.com) - October 15, 2020 - 8:43pm

MANILA, Philippines — Budget deliberations in Congress for the health department's coronavirus response in 2021 showed that the agency's set P2.5 billion for vaccines will not be enough to cover the 20 million Filipinos President Duterte vowed to have vaccinated. 

Rep. Stella Quimbo (Marikina) in an interpellation questioned the P13 billion given to the health department for its COVID-related programs next year, compared to the combined P82 billion spent in total for the virus response this 2020 under the two Bayanihan laws. 

The economist lawmaker explained that in her calculation, should a vaccine initially have a unit cost of P600, it would only cover some 3.9 million individuals given the P2.5 billion budget. 

"Nakapagtataka, anong nangyari? Alam naman natin na ang 2021 budget ay isang COVID budget at alam naman natin na para mag-recover ang ekonomiya ang Number 1 na kailangan gawin ay i-handle ang pagkalat ng COVID," Quimbo said. 

(It's unusual. What happened? We already know that the 2021 budget is a COVID-budget and for the economy to recover, the first thing we should be doing is handling the spread of the virus.) 

Rep. Manuel Dalipe (Zamboanga), a sponsor of the agency's budget, admitted that the said funding is lacking over P10 billion, and that for the vaccines, health officials made the proposal before Duterte gave the said pronouncement. 

"If we compute the cost of the vaccine at around P610 per individual, we would need P12.9 billion to cover 20 million to follow the President's directive," he said in mixed Filipino and English. 

Quimbo agreed with Dalipe for the need to recompute the department's budget for its COVID-19 response, warning that credit rating agencies have also said that the country's gross domestic product could contract as far as 9% in 2021. 

Duterte in his address late Wednesday night said he has secured enough funds to cover the government's target of 20 million at the first batch of the vaccine's delivery, which will comprise the most vulnerable to the virus, health workers and the military and police. 

But he has also made a tall order to eventually have the entire population of more than 113 million vaccinated. 

In the continuing special sessions of the House, Quimbo also raised the health department's low funding for mental health-related programs amid the COVID-19 pandemic at P615 million, which she said was half of the budget in 2017. 

"What's sad is back in 2017, we do not have yet the Mental Health Act but now that we have it as a law, the funding was even cut in half," she said in Filipino. 

Dalipe later on said the set budget was actually at P84 million, far from the latest figures Quimbo had received. 

Just this week, initial results from a health department survey showed that around 3.6 million Filipinos are reeling from mental health problems. National Mental Health program director Frances Cuevas also said that the numbers could go higher with the survey only covering mental, neurological and substance-use disorders. 

The health department has an approved P203 billion funding for 2021. But many have relayed concerns that this is not enough, with other agencies such as public works, the interior and defense departments getting more budget than health. 

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