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'What is the game plan?' Senate to probe COVID-19 vaccination program

The Senate will conduct a legislative probe into the government’s plans, or the lack thereof, for the national COVID-19 vaccination program.

The chamber on Monday, December 14, adopted Senate Resolution No. 594, proposed by Senator Francis Pangilinan, to convene as the committee of the whole to carry out an inquiry in aid of legislation.

Pangilinan noted lingering “critical questions” surrounding plans for public vaccination against COVID-19 that would dampen the public’s trust and impede success if they remain unanswered.

“The fact that senators are pretty much in the dark as to the game plan does not bode well for transparency and accountability in the vaccine rollout,” Pangilinan said in a privilege speech.

The opposition senator enumerated these “critical questions”:

  • How much funds will be needed to vaccinate 70% of the population, as the World Health Organization recommended to address herd immunity?
  • Will the government need a supplemental budget to fund this?
  • Is there a timetable to complete the vaccination of 70% of the population?
  • How many Filipinos will be vaccinated with the 2021 budget of P72.5 billion?
  • When will the vaccination begin?
  • How will it be rolled out?
  • Who will be vaccinated first?
  • How will they be vaccinated and by whom?
  • Does the government have the logistical capacity to ensure an effective delivery of the vaccines to the grassroots?
  • What is the game plan?

Details such as funding, country-to-country negotiations that may involve matters affecting diplomatic relations, logistics, help from the private sector, and public health concerns should be ironed out, Pangilinan said.

“The country needs clear and concrete action steps and deliverables in a vaccination program that our citizens can trust and believe in. It is incumbent upon government to provide this,” the senator added.

He noted steps already taken by other countries, such as placing orders and advance payments for vaccines, preparation of deep freezers, or simply identifying “strategic deliverables” as US President-elect Joe Biden has done.

The United Kingdom has begun administering the vaccine to its people, Pangilinan pointed out. “Sana all (I wish all),” he said, wondering aloud about when Filipinos will have their dose of the antidote to the pandemic.

He then warned against “overreliance” on vaccines as a way to mitigate the health crisis. Accurate and timely data, observance of informed policies and health safety protocols, access to testing and protective equipment, and a properly functioning healthcare system are just as important in quelling the outbreak.

“Lessons from other countries and jurisdictions such as New Zealand, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, Australia, and Taiwan reveal that this virus can be managed, that it can be done and has been done,” said Pangilinan.

Wrapping up his speech, Pangilinan posed more questions:

  • Which vaccines will the government be choosing to give the people?
  • What will be its basis for selecting the vaccines?
  • How many Filipinos can be inoculated?
  • Who will administer the shots?
  • How many will be needed to administer the shots?
  • Who will train them?
  • How will they be trained?
  • Who will prepare the list of beneficiaries?
  • How foolproof is this list?
  • How is the government going to guard against the possible proliferation of fake vaccines that might victimize the vulnerable?
  • How many deep freezers will be needed?
  • Is the government stockpiling on syringes, needles, and gloves?
  • How is the government going to distribute the vaccine?

The Senate and the House of Representatives ratified the P4.5-trillion proposed budget for 2021 last Wednesday, December 9.

The budget bill provides for a total of P72.5 billion for the COVID-19 vaccination program, of which P70 billion is unprogrammed – dependent on the availability of government revenues.

Although the Department of Finance said there would be available funds for the vaccination program, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon is concerned that the appropriation is not guaranteed. He likened it to an “unfunded check.”

In adopting Pangilinan’s proposal, the Senate acknowledged the urgency of the questions raised about the COVID-19 vaccination program. The senators are looking at starting the inquiry in late December or early January, to give the Duterte administration time to firm up its plans, which were still “fluid,” they said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III will decide when to begin the probe. –

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.