CORONAVIRUS DISEASE 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine booster shots could be available next year as the Finance department aims to secure the supply under a loan financing program before the end of the year.

Finance Undersecretary Mark Dennis Y.C. Joven at a briefing on Friday said that the government will purchase this year the COVID-19 booster doses that will be distributed in 2022.

The government allotted P45 billion for booster shots under the proposed 2022 national budget, even though Health officials have yet to decide if there is a need for a third COVID-19 shot.

The Department of Finance (DoF) recently said the government is in talks with World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) for $900 million (P45.6 billion) worth of loans for additional COVID-19 vaccines.

Mr. Joven said the ADB and AIIB deals could be signed before the year ends, while the World Bank deal could be inked by December or early January. In the meantime, the government could still use the balance from the original agreement with the World Bank, he added.

“The objective here is to have a seamless delivery of vaccines, so starting from January 1, 2022, we will draw from the new supply agreements already,” he said.

The government earlier this year renegotiated its loans with the World Bank and ADB so it could fund advance payments for its COVID-19 vaccine deals. Multilateral lender-funded projects are exempt from the advance payment limits set by the country’s procurement law.

This time, Mr. Joven said the department will request that the original National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) approval for the Philippine COVID-19 Emergency Response Project be amended so that the new loans are treated as additional financing for the same project.

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III at the same briefing said that booster shots should be subsidized for the entire population in the long term.

“(Booster shots are) an investment, really, in people’s health. And without that, I don’t think the economy can safely open,” he said.

“I cannot say beyond 2022, but I’m sure that the succeeding administration will keep that in mind that these vaccines are really insurance. It’s really a necessary input now into the economy.”

He noted that other COVID-19 medical responses such as drugs that lessen hospitalization risks are being developed.

“I’m not predicting that it’s only going to be vaccines, because I think the technology will develop and as shown the prices will go down. The prices of vaccines, as the manufacturing gets more and more efficient, is certainly going to drop.” — Jenina P. Ibañez