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Senators agree to put more funds for vaccine procurement, storage in 2021 budget —Zubiri

Senators have agreed to allocate additional funding under the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021 to procure vaccines against COVID-19 as well as a storage facility where they can be placed, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said.

In a radio interview on Saturday, Zubiri said all senators were amenable to put more funding in their version of the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for COVID-19 vaccines and cold storage.

“Pumayag po kami na dagdagan pa muli ang budget na inilagay ng HOR (House of Representatives) para merong pondo pambili ng bakuna kasama storage at distribution,” he said.

He, however, did not state the amount of additional funding they have agreed upon.

Zubiri believes that the only solution against the COVID-19 pandemic is a proper and working vaccine, and the Department of Health should be ready to administer it to Filipinos once it becomes available.

“We are adding budget for vaccination program. Baka mahuli po tayo, at kapag nahuli tayo, apektado ang ekonomiya natin. Kaya ‘yan ay dapat priority sa budget,” he added.

Some P2.5 billion has initially been allocated under the proposed 2021 budget for COVID-19 vaccine procurement.

According to Dr. Jaime Montoya, executive director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, at least five potential vaccines have so far been submitted for possible clinical trials in the Philippines.

These are Sinovac from China, Janssen, Sputnik V from Russia, Clover Biopharmaceuticals, and AstraZeneca.

In order for a potential vaccine to conduct clinical trials in the country, it has to secure clearance from a panel of vaccine experts under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

Once it is cleared by the DOST panel, it would also need approval from the Ethics Board and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

FDA Director General and Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said only Sinovac has been cleared so far by the vaccine expert panel.

The Philippines’ COVID-19 task force has formed a body that will handle the procurement, supply chain and logistics management, as well as distribution of vaccines especially to priority recipients.

The COVID-19 Vaccine Cluster is headed by Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., the chief implementer of the government’s pandemic response.

Zubiri is hoping that the Senate can finish its deliberations on the 2021 GAB this week, with the approval on third and final reading taking place on Tuesday.

Apart from vaccine procurement and cold storage, Zubiri said they are also planning to introduce amendments to the 2021 GAB to boost the rehabilitation efforts for areas affected by the typhoons Rolly and Ulysses.

The ratification of the P4.5 trillion national budget bill for 2021 was targeted for early December, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Saturday. —KG, GMA News

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