Expert to gov’t: Continue COVID-19 vax purchase despite global health emergency downgrade

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 8) — The government should make sure funds are still available to buy COVID-19 vaccines despite the World Health Organization (WHO) declaration that the virus is no longer a global health emergency, an infectious diseases expert said Monday.

“I don’t think we need to really depend now on donation. Kailangan maglaan talaga ng budget ang government natin in terms of how are we going to incorporate COVID-19 vaccination doon sa regular vaccination program,” Dr. Rontgene Solante told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

[Translation: The government needs to allocate budget in terms of how are we going to incorporate COVID-19 vaccination in the regular vaccination program.]

On May 5, the WHO said the COVID-19 infection is no longer a global health emergency after three years since the coronavirus outbreak in January 2020.

In line with the WHO decision, the Department of Health said it will convene with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to "discuss and reassess policies and other guidelines affected by the [WHO's] declaration.”

Despite the COVID-19 alert downgrade, Solante said the disease is still an important health issue since the virus can cause highly transmissible mutations that can drive infections up.

The expert also said countries should continue to equip the health care system, pursue vaccination, and make sure countermeasures are available like antiviral agents and diagnostic tests.

Meanwhile, Senator Francis Escudero urged the government to make public funds spent on COVID-19 vaccines.

"If we penalize an ordinary government worker for failing to liquidate his local travel expenses then why should billions in vaccine purchases be exempt from that accountability?” he said.

The senator said disclosing the amount "will end the national guessing game as to the amount involved” as agencies report different values.

Escudero also said the government cannot forever hide behind non-disclosure agreements (NDA) it signed with vaccine manufacturers.

Officials from the previous and present administration have cited NDAs in their refusal to disclose the prices of COVID-19 shots purchased by the government.

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee in February said it obtained information on some of the NDAs signed by the government to procure COVID-19 vaccines, including the amount spent for each shot.

Details can be discussed in a public hearing once the vaccine manufacturers allow it, panel chairman Francis Tolentino said.