Up to 31.3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country are going to waste, Senator Pia Cayetano said on Thursday's plenary deliberation of the Department of Health (DOH) budget.
Cayetano, sponsor of the DOH budget, was informed by the Health department that the figure on the wastage was part of the 250.8 million doses received by the Philippine government since it began its campaign to inoculate its population against the viral disease.
However, DOH told the senator that only 171.2 million doses have been administered.
The estimated cost of the 31.3 million wasted doses is at P15.6 billion, Cayetano said.
She said that the amount was just estimated at P500 vaccine dose, adding that the DOH is not also aware of the actual cost per vial.
"I have to emphasize 'estimated' because even the DOH does not know the cost because this was procured through an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). So based on an estimate of P500 per dose, it is...the cost is P15.6 billion," Cayetano said.
She said that the DOH has not been privy to the cost of the vaccines as they are not party to the non-disclosure agreement signed by the Philippine government and the vaccine manufacturers.
Cayetano said the wastage is equivalent to 12 percent of the total COVID-19 vaccines received by the Philippine government. She added that this is still within the indicative wastage rate of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros then asked if the WHO already changed the 10% indicative wastage rate.
In response, Cayetano said the WHO had found out that in low-income, middle-income and even the high-income countries' wastage rate went up to 30%, prompting the body to set the acceptable rate for wasted vaccine doses to 25%.
"I don't think that it's meant to be an excuse but it's just showing the trends and the realities," Cayetano told Hontiveros.
Hontiveros lamented that the vaccine wastage had increased from 8.42% in August to 12% in November or in a span of three months.
"Nakakalungkot lang na sa tatlong buwang pagitang yon, tumaas pa sa 12 percent kahit pasok parin sa 25% ceiling ng WHO...Nadagdagan pa ng 11 milyong doses na nasayang pa three months later...nadagdagan pa ng mga P5.3 billion in estimated wastage cost," she said.
But Cayetano clarified that the wastage did not actually increase and the DOH just got the accurate data as the previous figure did not include wastage from far-flung areas.
"Actually po hindi tumaas ang wastage natin during the period that her honor mentioned. What happened was they did a complete inventory at tsaka nila natuklasan na nandoon sa kadulu-duluhan na mga warehouse because 7,000 islands nga naman tayo, e meron pa pala doon. So what happened was, we now have a more accurate inventory," she said.
Hontiveros stressed the need for proper monitoring of vaccines amid the limited fiscal space of the government.
"The estimated wastage cost of those vaccines wasted would be equivalent to 4.83 percent of our health budget going to waste," the minority senator said.
"Alam naman natin lalo na ngayon na limitado ang pondo, masikip yung tinatawag nilang fiscal space, umaahon pa rin tayo sa pandemic at recession. Every single peso, every single percentage point is precious," she added.
Although the figures that Hontiveros mentioned are correct, Cayetano said it would be more fair if several factors would be considered such as donated vaccines which are nearing expiration that go to DOH's inventory, vaccine hesitancy, among others.
So far, Cayetano said around 300,000 expired vaccines have already been replaced by the COVAX facility.
At the latter part of the DOH budget debates, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III asked if the DOH knows the total cost of the COVID-19 vaccines procured by the government.
Cayetano said the Health Department does know the total cost, but not the breakdown of the procurement per vaccine manufacturer.
"DOH has the total amount that has been spent per year but if you will ask for a breakdown of per vaccine, depending on the brand, they don't have that because the negotiations for that were handled by the IATF—the Department of Finance which is part of the IATF," she said.
Cayetano said the copies of the NDAs are with the DOF when Pimentel asked if the DOH is in possession of the said agreement.
"The NDAs are with the DOF. Di kasama ang DOH," she said.
The issue on the NDAs was first brought up by Senator Francis Escudero during the Senate plenary deliberations on the budget of the Commission on Audit last Tuesday as he raised that there was no official report yet on the amount of public funds used to procure the COVID-19 vaccines.
Senator Sonny Angara said that the COA has yet to liquidate billions in public funds used to procure COVID-19 vaccines because its hands are tied by the NDAs entered into by the Philippine government and the vaccine suppliers.
Until now, Angara said, the copies of the NDAs have not been given to the COA. —LDF/BM, GMA Integrated News