‘With 70 million unused vaccines, no rush to get bivalents’

Louise Maureen Simeon - The Philippine Star
âWith 70 million unused vaccines, no rush to get bivalentsâ
Residents of Marikina City line up for a booster shot at the Marikina Sports Complex.
Walter Bollozos

MANILA, Philippines — The head of the economic team of the Marcos administration maintained that there is no urgency in procuring bivalent COVID vaccines as the country still has available some 70 million doses.

During the forum hosted by the Makati Business Club yesterday, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno emphasized that the country has enough vaccines at the moment, noting that fewer and fewer Filipinos are actually taking the jabs.

The jabs available, however, are the first-generation vaccines. The bivalents are specifically designed against the Omicron and its subvariants.

“We confronted that issue and the fact right now is that there are 70 million unused vaccines, 70 million. We vaccinate on average just 10,000 daily. Only 10,000 are willing to be vaccinated,” Diokno said, in reaction to the query of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines on the ability to import bivalent COVID
 vaccines. However, this possibility limited following the inclination of President Marcos to no longer extend the state of public health emergency in the country due to COVID.

“There’s no urgency [to procure] to my mind,” Diokno said, arguing that the COVAX Facility will provide some 1.2 million doses of bivalent vaccines that will come in next month.

At the current rate of daily vaccination, it would take over three months to consume the doses to be delivered by COVAX.

“As COVAX said, as soon as you finish up the 1.2 million [doses], we will give you more,” Diokno said. “Apparently, the rest of the world does not want to be vaccinated [anymore]. That’s the situation right now. There’s a resistance.”

He maintained that the government already incurred $2 billion in loans for the vaccines. Of that amount, some $800 million remains untapped.

“We still have the balance and we can use that to buy the vaccines through the World Bank and ADB (Asian Development Bank) who will procure for us,” Diokno said. “So we are covered. Let us not panic.”

COVID-19 benefits

The Department of Health (DOH) has assured the country’s health care workers (HCWs) of their much-deserved COVID-19 benefits despite expiration of the state of calamity.

“Actually, the health care workers’ benefits are not affected by the state of calamity because the law for our health care workers’ benefits is hinged on the proclamation of the public health emergency which has not been lifted yet,” said DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire at a recent televised interview.

“We have a basis for this. The President even told us to continue on with this since this was not affected by the state of calamity. In terms of how to institutionalize this kind of benefits, we have the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) law that we are pushing and under this, the benefits for our health care workers are also covered,” said Vergeire.

Congress already passed on third reading the law creating the Philippine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the health official, “In times of calamity or pandemic, it should be automatic that health workers should have extra incentive.”

As for salaries of the HCWs, Vergeire said the DOH is also pushing for amendment to the magna carta for health care workers. “That is outdated already so we would like to have it amended,” she said.

“We are also making the rounds of consultations with our experts and then we go to our HCWs in line with our goal of standardizing salaries between public and private workers,” she added.

Earlier, health workers from both public and private hospitals and other health facilities held a protest activity to strongly convey their demand for the swift release of their one COVID-19 allowance and health emergency allowance.

The Alliance of Health Workers lamented that their much-needed allowances have not been released yet.

In response, the DOH said it is continuously disbursing the benefits and allowances of HCWs in both the public and private sector. – Rhodina Villanueva


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