Call for probe into P13.5b jab wastage
Published on: Friday, August 05, 2022
By: Inquirer
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Risa acknowledged that vaccine doses would be unusable for various reasons and the figure would be tainted with a margin of error. “But in this case, should we just say goodbye to billion peso-worth of vaccines?.
MANILA: Sen. Risa Hontiveros has called for a Senate investigation of the looming wastage of up to P13.5 billion worth of unused and expired Covid-19 vaccines while the number of infections continued to rise.

In a proposed resolution, the opposition senator cited media reports that around 4 million to 27 million unused and expired doses of Covid-19 vaccines priced at P500 per dose were bound to be thrown away. 

She acknowledged that vaccine doses would be unusable for various reasons and the figure would be tainted with a margin of error. “But in this case, should we just say goodbye to billion peso-worth of vaccines?” she said. 

“We cannot brag that we have outdone Asyong Aksaya (because) someone has to answer for all these,” she said.

Her proposed Senate Resolution No. 92 will open an inquiry into the purchase and administration of “safe and effective” vaccines, in line with Republic Act No. 11525 or the Covid-19 Vaccination Act of 2021.

According to the Aug. 2 data from the national vaccination dashboard, 71.8 million have been fully vaccinated, while only 16.3 million have availed of the first booster shot. More than 1.3 million among the eligible population received their second booster dose.

Hontiveros said that while the country had achieved its initial target of inoculating 70 million Filipinos, an estimated 86.9 million doses are still left in its supply inventory with “undisclosed shelf life and expiration dates.”

“It is reprehensible that billions of pesos could end up squandered amid the continuing threat of Covid-19 and the need to fund the needs of the other sectors heavily affected by the pandemic,” the resolution said.

“Were there shortcomings in the processes, and if so, where did these take place? Was it in the purchase? The rollout? The issuance of guidelines? The bottom line is that money and supplies went to waste regardless of whom these came from,” Hontiveros said in a press briefing.

The senator lamented that lawmakers worked hard for the allotment of the funds only for this to be “thrown away” in the end.

According to the resolution, the Department of Health (DOH) targeted to administer Covid-19 booster shots to about 23 million fully vaccinated individuals within the first 100 days of the new administration of President Marcos.

According to Hontiveros, the inquiry will invite members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) and other DOH officials on the current state of the country’s Covid-19 response.

Hontiveros noted that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. directed the DOH to intensify its administration of booster doses in his first State of the Nation Address (Sona), but the reported wastage became “such an irony” at the start of his administration.

“I can understand the frustration, especially of the private sector which put a premium on efficiency and value for money that a few days ago, they had to throw away their large stocks of vaccine supply when these could have been part of the second booster campaign,” she said.

The Senate inquiry will also look into the disparity in vaccine distribution and the government’s insistence on a particular vaccine brand, or vaccines from a preferred country of origin.

Sen. Imee Marcos said the wastage “is very disheartening” but there was no time to open an inquiry and it would be better to call on the DOH to administer the remaining Pfizer vaccines to “all sectors” before they expired.

Sen. Nancy Binay called on the DOH and its advisers to intensify its partnerships with their international counterparts, especially those that have made studies on the efficacy of the vaccines and focus on their expiry dates to avoid a repeat of this wastage.

Time for new plan

Public health reform advocate Dr. Tony Leachon said there was a need for a “new plan of action” in responding to Covid-19 and vaccination as a new “more transmissible and evasive” Omicron subvariant threatened the country.

On Tuesday, the health department confirmed the country’s first two cases of “Centaurus,” the BA.2.75 Omicron sublineage first detected in India in July. Both had recovered, but the DOH has yet to determine their travel history and if the two patients had exposed others.

“Subvariants will definitely be with us or in other countries due to the mutation of the virus. This is due to waning immunity of the vaccines and thus we need boosters on a periodic basis,” Leachon told the Inquirer in a text message.

Press Secretary Trixie Cruz Angeles on Wednesday said there was no need to tighten current Covid-19 protocols despite the detection of the more contagious “Centaurus.”

She cited information from the DOH which said that the new Omicron subvariant was “more contagious but not deadlier.”

Ranjit Rye of pandemic monitor Octa Research had earlier called on the Marcos administration to craft a comprehensive national Covid-19 “playbook” to guide the country out of the pandemic.

The government should create an “exit plan that would harmonise the various policies and programmes initiatives,” especially those mentioned by the President in his Sona, Rye said in an online forum last week.

In a tweet, Octa fellow Guido David said “there is hope” that cases would “peak soon” after the growth and reproduction rates of Covid-19 transmission in Metro Manila had decreased.

The growth rate of Covid-19 infections in Metro Manila dipped to 14 percent on Tuesday from 21 percent on July 26.

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