Supply-chain costs for COVID-19 vaccines not in 2021 DOH budget, says Pia

November 21 ------ The Department of Health’s proposed P212.7-billion budget for 2021 does not cover the cost of the storage and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, Senator Pia Cayetano said on Wednesday. During the budget deliberations at the Senate, Cayetano said the DOH was satisfied with its budget for COVID-19 response but had no budget for the supply chain-related expenses such as storage of the vaccines, transportation, training of vaccinators and other incidental expenses.

“May expense din po ‘yan. We’ll have to find a way to cover that because it's not in the budget,” Cayetano said. Cayetano was responding to Senator Manny Pacquiao’s question on how the DOH will strengthen the health care system despite receiving a “terrible” budget cut. “As my staff confirms with me, we need extra budget lang for the supply chain,” Cayetano said during the Senate budget deliberations. “From the storage to the transportation including ‘yung mga maliliit na bagay na kasama diyan, ‘yung syringes, and then pati ‘yung training vaccinators,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano said the Department of Finance (DOF) had confirmed that there were loan facilities available. “The secretary has said that they’re quite satisfied with the budget they have for COVID response. The quarantine facilities are in place, the testing facilities are in place, the test kits are available, but they have other budgetary requirements,” Cayetano said. “On the vaccine itself, there is a budget for that. It’s not sufficient but DOF has confirmed that there are loaned facilities available to include this and we’re also putting on record that we also need to provide the budget,” she added.

Health Undersecretary Carol Taiño previously said the warehousing allocation under the 2021 budget was not intended specifically for the COVID-19 vaccine. In a recent interview, Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Roomana said China had imposed no condition for prioritizing the Philippines in its distribution of COVID-19 vaccines once they were available. Romana, however, said that Chinese pharmaceutical firms involved in developing the vaccine asked that the Philippines be ready with adequate cold chain storage facilities.

“It’s not a condition. It’s just a reminder that if you get the vaccine and you don’t have cold chain storage, then it’s useless,” Sta. Romana said. Ambassador to Russia Carlos Sorreta said the country was ready to produce Sputnik V vaccines for the Philippines in January 2021 but added that the country should "be ready with some of the infrastructure para ho sa storage at the required temperatures." "There’s a version of the vaccine that will not require extreme temperatures but it might be a little more expensive,” Sorreta said.