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P75B needed for expanded vaccination

The Philippines is looking to ramp up its coronavirus vaccination drive in the next few months, as vaccine supplies arrive. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

THE government might need to spend P75 billion more until next year to fund its expanded coronavirus vaccination program, the Finance chief said on Thursday.

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said government agencies might have to realign their budgets again to get funds for the program without widening the budget deficit too much.

“With the announcement that some countries will inoculate teenagers and the expectation that we eventually will follow suit, we are anticipating an additional expenditure of about P20 billion to vaccinate approximately 15 million kids aged 12 to 17,” he told reporters via Viber.

Mr. Dominguez said the government must raise P55 billion to acquire coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) booster shots to cover 85 million Filipinos, including adults and teenagers, next year.

While it is still unclear if booster shots will be needed to protect against future COVID-19 variants, countries such as the United States are already preparing.

Drug manufacturers such as Moderna, Inc., Pfizer, Inc. and Johnson & Johnson are developing booster shots to help boost protection against COVID-19.

The US Food and Drug Administration has authorized the use of the vaccine by Pfizer and BioNTech SE for children aged 12 to 15 years.

Mr. Dominguez said the inoculation program for children might start this year, although the Health department has yet to finalize it.

The estimated P75-billion budget for the expanded vaccination drive will be added to the P72.5 billion earlier earmarked for the inoculation of at least 60 million Filipino adults this year. The mass vaccination program has been initially funded by loans from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed on Wednesday Administrative Order No. 41 ordering all state offices to identify portions of their 2020 budgets that may be considered as savings. The validity of the 2020 budget was extended until Dec. 31.

While agencies were ordered to report their identified savings by the end of May, Mr. Dominguez said they have not determined the amount that could be raised from budget realignments.

Budget Secretary Wendel E. Avisado earlier said they were looking into tapping various sources to possibly support a third stimulus package, including realignment of funds of state agencies and subsidies from state-run companies.

The government slashed the budgets of several agencies last year to redirect the funds for pandemic relief programs. Agencies with the biggest budget cuts were the Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Transportation and Department of Education.

Mr. Avisado said the 2021 budget for infrastructure projects worth P1.2 trillion, would not be touched because the program is expected to drive the economic recovery.

The Budget department had released P3.613 trillion or 80.2% of this year’s P4.5-trillion spending plan as of April.

Latest official data showed the Philippine government had released P646.97 billion for pandemic-related programs as of mid-April.

Foreign loans secured for its pandemic response had reached $18.4 billion as of last month, after the state increased borrowings to plug its ballooning deficit that is 8.9% of gross domestic product this year. — Beatrice M.Laforga

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