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Rep. Garin says DOH advisory council also to blame for expired COVID-19 vaccine doses

The Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC), which advises the Department of Health (DOH) regarding COVID-19 vaccines, should share the blame for the 31 million vaccine doses that expired, Iloilo Representative Janet Garin said Thursday.

“Isa sa masalimuot na katotohanan sa Pilipinas ay ang bawat desisyon ng DOH ay dadaan muna sa HTAC na sa ilang pagkakataon ay nararapat, subalit may ilang sitwasyon na masyadong matagal ang rekomendasyon na bandang huli ay nawawalan na ng bisa gaya na lang sa nangyari sa COVID vaccine,” said Garin in a statement.

(It's a painful truth that every DOH decision must go through HTAC, and there are situations when such is appropriate. However, there are also situations wherein the recommendation has long been delayed that it won’t have weight anymore, just like what happened to COVID-19 vaccines.)

A former DOH secretary, Garin said HTAC’s mandate is to provide recommendations to the DOH in a swift manner -- something, she said, the council failed to do.

According to Garin, while other countries were already administering COVID-19 booster shots, HTAC has yet to decide on when to give booster shots and still waiting on the result of their clinical trials.

“It is really disheartening that such an amount of COVID-19 vaccines expired, although we saw it coming because as early as June and July last year, we were already saying that the first booster should already be administered,” Garin, also a medical doctor, pointed out.

“They still waited it out and only authorized it by December, when a lot of people were already infected and a lot of people already died. Also, they only allowed a second booster when the COVID-19 vaccines were already about to expire.”

Garin also called out HTAC for its supposed flexibility which affected the private sector purchase of the COVID-19 vaccines since they cannot administer the booster shot to their employees without clearance from the DOH, which in turn needs recommendations from HTAC.

“We have been doing things by the book too much, empowering HTAC so much that DOH decisions will have to depend on the council which does not have accountability. As a result, our resources were wasted,” Garin said.

Garin said that the Universal Healthcare Law must be amended to reduce the authority of the HTAC to conduct health tech assessment or setting the price range for government purchases alone rather than being involved in the program implementation.

GMA News Online has reached out to the DOH for comment and will publish its reply as soon as it is available.

The DOH earlier said the 31.3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines — which were 12.5% of the total vaccines received by the Philippine government — that were likely go to waste was still within the “acceptable level” of wastage based on the standards of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The DOH said other countries experience 25% to 30% vaccine wastage due to several factors. —Llanesca T. Panti/KBK, GMA Integrated News