Insufficient funds for new vaccines to combat ‘FLiRT’ variant

Government has no budget for updated COVID-19 vaccines

The government has zero budget set aside this year to procure updated doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to protect vulnerable Filipinos from the new “Flirt” variants driving a wave of infections around the world, according to the Department of Health (DOH).

The jabs are seen as crucial to the safety and protection of the elderly as well as people with compromised immune systems from the fast-spreading Flirt variants, which, while not considered deadly, are sparking concerns of a COVID-19 resurgence four years since the advent of the pandemic.

The DOH spokesperson, Assistant Secretary Albert Domingo, said the public’s immunity from the virus due to the original primary series of COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots administered from 2021 to 2023 had waned over time, although “not totally lost.”

“But the DOH has no budget under the 2024 appropriations law to acquire updated COVID-19 vaccines considered more effective against the Flirt variants,” Domingo explained.

The country is currently facing an outbreak of measles and pertussis (whooping cough) due to the low vaccination coverage in previous years spurred by pandemic-induced community lockdowns.

For COVID-19 doses, the DOH is relying on donations, including a million doses pledged by Gavi Vaccine Alliance, a global health partnership formed in 2000 to provide equal access to new and underused vaccines for children living in the world’s poorest countries.

Citing information from the World Health Organization, the DOH assured the public that there was no evidence to date that the Flirt variants were causing severe to critical COVID-19 cases.

But the DOH urged Filipinos to continue practicing minimum health standards, advising them to wear face masks when going out in public or entering enclosed spaces with large gatherings.

There are no confirmed cases of the Flirt variants in the Philippines, according to the report.

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