THE World Bank (WB) on Wednesday announced that it approved a new $300-million loan to help fund the Philippine government’s coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine rollout, amid the threat from the new Omicron variant.
The new loan covers about 27 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, including booster shots for adults and jabs for minors aged 12 to 17.
“Fair, broad, and fast access to effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines is vital to save lives and strengthen economic recovery,” World Bank Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand Ndiamé Diop said in a press release.
“This funding operation is critical for the country to safely reopen the economy and resume economic and social development activities, including face-to-face learning, that were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Booster doses will be used for at-risk groups like immunocompromised individuals and senior citizens, along with health workers and the wider population, the multilateral lender said.
The loan could also finance vaccines for children under 12, once approved by the regulator.
Over 40% of Filipinos have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the Johns Hopkins University tracker showed. The government aims to fully vaccinate 54 million people by the end of this year.
The Philippine government is ramping up its vaccine rollout amid a surge in Omicron cases in many countries. According to the World Health Organization, Omicron is causing infections to double in 1.5 to 3 days.
The Health department on Tuesday said adults can now receive a booster shot at least three months after the second shot of a two-dose vaccine, from six months previously. Those who received a single-dose vaccine can get a booster shot after two months.
Vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. last month said the government plans to start vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 in January next year.
“The five-year old shots are not yet approved here in the Philippines, but we are already ready to buy it as soon as it gets approved,” Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said at a press briefing last week.
Mr. Diop said negotiating supply agreements ahead of the scale up of vaccination efforts next year is a “step in the right direction” for the Philippines, noting a supplier-driven global vaccine market that creates uncertainties for low- and middle-income countries.
The World Bank in April last year extended a $100-million loan to help support public health responses to the pandemic and another $500 million in March 2021 to fund the initial vaccine rollout.
The newly approved loan is one of several multilateral funds that will be used to buy vaccine boosters and doses for children.
The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank last week also approved a $250-million loan to help the Philippines buy more coronavirus vaccines. South Korea has also granted the Philippines a $100-million loan to support its vaccination program.
The government borrowed $23.4 billion from foreign sources to fund its pandemic response from March 2020 to Dec. 7, 2021, Mr. Dominguez said. Of the total, $21 billion covers the decline in government revenue collections, while the rest was set for COVID-19 response and recovery projects, including vaccine procurement. — Jenina P. Ibañez