Transparency in Covid-19 vaccine procurement

Posted December 18, 2020

Transparency is crucial in the government’s procurement of vaccines to contain Covid-19, says Ben Punongbayan, chairman and founder of Buklod national political party.

The government must inform and update the public regularly about the planned  total number of doses to be acquired, the current contracted quantity, the plans for obtaining the remaining balance and the time period of the expected deliveries, he said.

“Our citizens need to know how soon they can get over the present plague and plan their lives accordingly. Similarly, Philippine businesses need this information in order to properly estimate the demand for their products and plan their outputs accordingly,” the Buklod official said.

Currently, Pfizer is now delivering its approved vaccine to a few countries where inoculation has started. Massachusetts-based biotechnology company Moderna is doing the same soon. Researchers are said to be currently testing 61 vaccines in clinical trials on humans, of which 17 have reached the final stages of testing.

Based on recent reports from media, the Philippines has placed an order of 2.6 million doses of vaccine from AstraZeneca which will be funded by Philippine private business and are expected to be received for inoculation between May and June 2021. It also has been reported that there are currents talks for procurement of one million doses, but no other details were disclosed.

“The government must explain to the people why the Philippines is not getting additional share in these available vaccines,” Punongbayan said.

Undersecretary Secretary Carlito Galvez, sole point person for vaccine procurement, was reported to have expressed that the Philippines need to inoculate 60% to 70% of its citizens to reach the point of herd immunity.

Punongbayan explained that to get the upper level of that range, the country needs about 76 million vials of the vaccine for the first dose alone as most inoculations require two doses to be effective.

The first dose primes the body’s immunity system, while the second one delivers the effective punch. To provide a safe margin, the Philippines may then need a minimum number of about 150 million doses of vaccines. That is indeed a long way to go. Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon the government to inform the Filipino citizens of its plans to procure that number of doses, or of whatever total quantity it believes is necessary, and the expected dates of delivery.

Punongbayan also noted that as a practical matter, to procure that many doses will take several years. For this reason, the government must also inform the citizenry about what to expect about the movement of people in terms of plans for any continued restriction in public transportation.

For certain, Philippine business may not be able to recover fully until herd immunity is attained. The government, therefore, needs to plan for any additional assistance that may need to be provided to the unemployed, if not to the affected businesses themselves.

Punongbayan recognizes that a major problem in the procurement of enough doses of vaccine is to find adequate funding.

To meet the cost of the vaccines, he suggests that the government consider seriously to increase the rate of corporate income tax and the upper bracket rates of personal income tax for the next two or three years.

Punongbayan believes that such temporary additional income tax to be levied to those who can afford it is reasonable under the circumstances. It also has the effect of an economic equalizer as the poor will not bear any part of the cost of the very much needed vaccine.

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