MANILA, Philippines, August 4 ------ Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday 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.
Fully vaxxed, boosted
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.
Questions for IATF, DOH
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.