Robredo: Name first recipients, prepare budget for COVID-19 vaccine storage

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 22) — To avoid similar lapses committed in the implementation of the social amelioration program, Vice President Leni Robredo called on the government to prepare a list of the first recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine and an ample budget for its storage before it is distributed in the country.

In her weekly radio show, Robredo cited her recommendations from a previous briefing with health officials regarding the government's level of preparation for the COVID-19 vaccine inoculation in the country.

"Iyong plano, meron nang reprioritizaton kung sino 'yung uunahin. Ang naaalala ko, ang uunahin, iyong mga health care workers, 'yung mga indigents...ok na iyon," she said, noting that it would be better if the first recipients would be properly identified.

[Translation: The plan was, there would be a reprioritization of who will go first. I remember that health care workers will go first, the indigents...That's okay already.]

"Ang suggestion ko, pangalanan na. Hindi lang 'yung nakasulat na reprioritization. Halimbawa, health care workers. Alam na natin kung ilan na sila, sino sila, para 'pag dumating, meron nang recipient," Robredo added.

[Translation: My suggestion is to name them, not just reprioritization of their group in general. For example, for health care workers. We already know how many they are, who they are, so that when it comes, we already have a ready list of recipients.]

The Vice President said it would be better to prepare early and avoid hurdles that delayed the distribution of cash aid to poor households when the pandemic struck early this year.

"Huwag na 'yung nangyari sa social amelioration na halimbawa nagkaroon pa ng problema on the ground sa listahan ng mga recipients kasi hindi pa ready," she said. "Sana habang naghihintay tayo, halimbawa dumating siya second quarter of 2021, ngayon pa lang ready na iyong listahan."

[Translation: Let us not repeat what happened during the distribution of the social amelioration where there were problems on the ground because the list of recipients was not yet ready. I hope while we're waiting for the vaccine, for example if it arrives in the second quarter of 2021, our list is already ready as early as now.]

She also echoed the need to prepare for a budget for proper vaccine storage, after experts raised concerns that some potential vaccines need to be kept in colder facilities than others.

The Department of Health previously told CNN Philippines that the country only has equipment for vaccines that require storage at 8 degrees Celsius and -20 degrees Celsius and none for those with more stringent temperature requirements of -70 degrees Celsius. The government is currently in talks with private firms, so they could convert their equipment to meet lower temperature conditions.

Luzviminda Garcia, supervising health program officer of the DOH's Disease Prevention and Control Bureau, said it would cost nearly ₱3 billion to store a vaccine intended to cover 25 million people at -70 degrees Celsius temperature.

The DOH, which has a proposed budget of ₱136 billion for 2021, has a budget of ₱8 billion for the vaccine. It previously identified priority groups of around 24 million vulnerable Filipinos who need to be vaccinated, or 20 percent of the population. These are frontline health workers, senior citizens, indigents, the vulnerable, and uniformed personnel.

On Saturday, Senate President Vicente Sotto III revealed that Senator Panfilo Lacson and House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez had already received COVID-19 vaccines that can be likened to that of Pfizer's, which the drug maker claimed to be more than 94 percent effective. Both lawmakers have not yet issued statements on the matter.