Rep. Garin seeks to clip HTACpowers over vaccine wastage

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A former secretary of the Department of Health (DOH) and now Iloilo lawmaker wants to limit the power of the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC), an advisory body, to prevent the wastage of Covid-19 vaccines.

In an interview, Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin said the power of HTAC should be limited to health technology assessment.

“They (HTAC) should not meddle with program managers or with the implementation [of programs],” said Garin.

Garin blamed the HTAC for the wastage of 31 million Covid-19 shots worth P15.6 billion. It is HTAC that gives recommendations to the national government when to use certain vaccines and medicines. 

She said HTAC was given so much power, while its members are “not full time and have no accountability.”

She added the decisions on Covid-19 vaccination should be with the health department, which has “program managers” who are already experts in certain fields.

Despite the urgency, Garin said it took time for HTAC before the body allowed the use of the Covid-19 vaccines as first and second booster shots. 

“Everything has to go through HTAC like the vaccines, the private sector was not immediately allowed to use the vaccines that they bought as first and second booster shots,” she added.

“In combating infectious diseases, vaccination is always effective when you see the face of the infection. You take advantage when many people want to get it. If you miss that window, the adrenalin of the people to get vaccinated is no longer there,” Garin added.

The HTAC is an independent advisory body created under the Republic Act 11223, otherwise known as the Universal Health Care Act, with the overall role of providing guidance to the DOH and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation interventions and technologies to be funded by the government. 

The mandate of the council is to undertake technology appraisals by determining their clinical and economic values in the Philippine health-care system, with the aim to improve overall health outcomes and ensure fairness, equity, and sustainability of coverage for all Filipino citizens. 

According to Garin, it is the practice of HTAC to wait for the results of clinical trials or the laboratory trials even if there is already “real world data” supporting the booster shots for Covid-19.

“If you are in a pandemic, we have what we call ‘real world data’ because many countries have started with their boosters without laboratory data because millions of people are getting infected and dying,” she pointed out.

“What happened was that it was so by the book but so many things were happening that were not in the book,” Garin explained.

Meanwhile, Garin said she is willing to file amendments to the Universal Health Care Act to address the issues with HTAC.