MANILA – Malacañang on Thursday told mayors to follow the priority list for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) vaccination.
In a virtual press briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque warned anew that the Philippines could lose more than 40 million vaccine vials allocated by the Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility to the Philippines if mayors continue to jump the line for Covid-19 vaccination.
“Uulitin ko po ‘no, mga mayor, tama na po iyan ha. Kapag iyan ay nagpatuloy, 44 million ang dosages ng COVAX Facility vaccines ang pupuwedeng mawala sa atin (To all the mayors, stop it already. If you continue skipping the line, we would lose about 44 million dosages of COVAX Facility vaccines). So please, we ask for your indulgence,” Roque said.
He issued the statement a day after President Rodrigo Duterte acknowledged a “gray area” in the inoculation of some local chief executives.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) had issued show-cause orders to mayors Alfred Romualdez (Tacloban City, Leyte), Dibu Tuan (T’boli, South Cotabato), Sulpicio Villalobos (Sto Niño, South Cotabato), Noel Rosal (Legazpi, Albay), and Abraham Ibba (Bataraza, Palawan) after receiving Covid-19 vaccine jabs while the inoculation of medical front-liners is ongoing.
Apart from the five, Duterte confirmed in his public address delivered Wednesday night that mayors Elanito Peña (Minglanilla, Cebu), Victoriano Torres III (Alicia, Bohol), Virgilio Mendez (San Miguel, Bohol), and Arturo Piollo II (Lila, Bohol) also got inoculated against Covid-19 ahead of other prioritized groups.
‘Wrong’ to jump the queue
Roque said while Duterte understands the mayors’ decision to receive vaccine shots, it is still “wrong” to jump the Covid-19 vaccination line.
“I am sure good faith can be used as a defense. Pero ang panawagan po ng Presidente, sinabi nga po niya grey area iyan pero sana po huwag nang maulit dahil malalagay po sa aberya yung 44 million nating COVAX Facility (However, the President, while he said there is a gray area, is expecting that a similar incident would not happen again because we would risk the 44 million vaccines that we will receive through the COVAX Facility),” he said.
The Philippines is expected to receive a total of 44 million vaccine doses through the COVAX Facility within the year.
The country has so far received 525,600 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines through the World Health Organization-led COVAX Facility.
Roque clarified that the proposal to reserve vaccine shots for “influencers” to boost public confidence in Covid-19 vaccines was turned down.
The proposed “influencers” include Roque, select government officials, media and movie personalities.
“Nagkaroon ng ganyang proposal. Hindi po iyan naaprubahan ng IATF (There was such a proposal but it was rejected by the IATF [Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases]),” he said.
Roque also noted that only National Task Force Against Covid-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., testing czar Vivencio Dizon, and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chief Benjamin Abalos Jr. had been allowed to receive Covid-19 vaccine shots despite not being on the top of the vaccine priority list.
Galvez, Dizon, and Abalos got inoculated on March 1.
Proposed law vs. violators
Following the reported unauthorized inoculation in the country, Roque was convinced of the need to look into the possibility of crafting a law that would sanction people who would violate the measures implemented to contain Covid-19.
He said to date, only government workers who disregard the national vaccination plan would be meted with punishment.
“Kung ang mga nag-skip ng line ay taong gobyerno, meron tayong tinatawag na Salonga law, ‘yung Code of Ethics for all public officers. At sa akin, may mga probisyon doon na pupuwedeng malabag. Hindi naman po siguro pagtatanggal agad pero meron pong corresponding na parusa (If those who are skipping the line are government workers, we have the so-called Salonga law on the Code of Ethics for all public officers. There are provisions there that they may violate. They would not be dismissed but there is a corresponding punishment),” he said.
However, Roque lamented that the law does not apply to ordinary citizens skipping the vaccine priority list.
“Kinakailangan talaga natin ng national quarantine law ‘no na magpapataw ng mga parusa among others dito sa mga taong hindi susunod sa Vaccination Deployment Plan (We really need a national quarantine law that will impose penalties on people who will defy the vaccination deployment plan),” he said.
Roque’s proposal came a day after Duterte ordered the conduct of an investigation into a “child of a celebrity”, believed to be Mark Anthony Fernandez, who received Covid-19 vaccine shot despite not being on the government’s priority list.
Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez earlier defended Fernandez’ inoculation, saying the actor was eligible to be prioritized for Covid-19 vaccination because he has comorbidity and was included in the “quick substitution list”.
Olivarez explained that Fernandez got vaccinated after the local government completed the administration of Covid-19 vaccines to all medical front-liners.
Roque confirmed that there is a quick substitution list in the government’s vaccination program.
“Kinukumpirma ko po na meron tayong quick substitution list. Ito po kasi yung mga listahan ng mga tao na pupuwedeng bigyan ng bakuna kapag ang health care worker po ay hindi dumating or talagang ayaw tumanggap ng bakuna kasi hindi naman pupuwedeng masayang yung mga vial na nabuksan na. At kinakailangan magamit na agad yun (I am confirming that there is a quick substitution list. This is a list of people who could get vaccinated in case a health worker refuses to receive the vaccine because the vaccines cannot go to waste and must be administered immediately once opened),” he said.
Follow prioritization framework
The Department of Health (DOH) and the National Task Force Against Covid-19 (NTF) also called on non-medical front-liners to strictly follow the approved prioritization framework of the National Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment Plan.
In a joint statement, the DOH and the NTF emphasized that available doses of vaccines are allocated for and should be given first to medical front-liners and healthcare workers (HCWs) who have the highest exposure to coronavirus and are at most risk of contracting Covid-19.
“Recent reports of non-HCWs being inoculated have already been referred to the DILG. We once again emphasize that due to the limited number of vaccines, we should reserve these doses for our healthcare workers on whom we rely to maintain our most critical health services,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.
Meanwhile, Galvez assured the public that “the national government is working relentlessly to secure enough vaccine doses for all”.
“We call on the public to follow our prioritization not just because it is set by WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) or by the guidelines of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group, but more importantly because it is our moral obligation to allow our front-liners to be the first to receive the protection they need and deserve, especially amid this surge,” he said.
He said more vaccine doses will arrive in the coming months, urging his “fellow public servants to follow the prioritization framework set by the government”.
“Every person who jumps the line takes away a vaccine for a front-liner,” he added.
As of March 23, the NTF reported that the government has vaccinated 508,332 individuals and has so far secured 30 percent of the 3.4 million doses needed to immunize 1.7 million HCWs nationwide. (With reports from Ma. Teresa Montemayor/PNA)