MANILA – The government has been working non-stop to make sure the Covid-19 vaccination program will continue to improve, National Task Force (NTF) Against Covid-19 chief implementer, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., said on Saturday.
Despite a slow start last year due to limited vaccine supplies globally, Galvez said the daily inoculation rate rose from a few thousand doses to millions of jabs as the shipments started to arrive in bulk during the third quarter of 2021.
"First of all, the Philippine government remains committed, more than ever, to vaccinate all qualified Filipinos against Covid-19 amidst the challenges we continue to face," Galvez said in a statement, reacting to the World Bank report on the country's slow vaccination rollout.
Galvez said the government's "massive and unprecedented" vaccination strategies since March last year proved effective, not only in scaling up the inoculation capacities of local government units (LGUs) but also in increasing vaccine acceptance.
"The vaunted bayanihan (cooperation) spirit among all sectors of society and levels of government shone through and has been at the core of the national government’s pandemic response and mitigation efforts," he said.
Galvez, however, noted external factors that hampered the government's ability to maximize such partnerships and slowed down vaccination efforts.
"Among these factors was the onslaught of Typhoon Odette in December, whose impact in major areas across the Visayas and Mindanao are still being felt and being addressed by the government to this day. The typhoon struck six regions in the country, all of which were starting to ramp up their vaccination throughput," he said.
The disaster, Galvez said, forced LGUs to temporarily suspend their rollouts to respond to immediate needs such as food, medicine, and shelters.
"Moreover, the upcoming elections are also diverting the attention of some of our local chief executives from the efficient implementation of their vaccination drive, which we believe is the more important task at hand," he added.
Galvez hopes that local leaders would set aside their personal interests and prioritize the health and protection of their constituents amid another surge in Covid-19 cases.
Threats by the communist terrorist groups (CTGs) in the so-called Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas are also affecting pandemic responses.
"The CTGs have been a major cause of concern among our LGUs whose inoculation efforts have been largely affected whenever there is an attack on communities," he said.
Galvez said factors affecting the vaccination program of each country vary from one another.
"Many of our neighbors in the region do not share the same challenges that we have, such as our country’s unique geographical landscape being an archipelago of around 7,640 islands wherein delivering the vaccines to far-flung communities can be a major logistical challenge or being frequently hit by typhoons which leave behind a swath of destruction," he added.
In its report published January 19, the World Bank said “the slower vaccination and higher mobility during the holiday season are the likely causes why the Philippines is one of the first to experience an Omicron variant surge in the region, recording higher cases per capita than other Asean countries, as of Jan. 11.”
Galvez said the country’s business sector could no longer be held hostage by the health crisis, thus, the need to further open up the economy while putting in place all the necessary health and safety precautions.
"While this may be true to a certain extent, surely the World Bank understands the need to create a balance between protecting the people’s health and breathing life into the nation’s economy," Galvez said.
Galvez said the Philippines has registered very low Covid-19 caseloads and positivity rates throughout December, a trend which started in the third quarter when vaccination rates significantly increased due to steadier and bigger vaccine deliveries.
"But the Philippines has already learned its lessons from previous surges such as the one caused by the Delta variant. The country’s health care system is now more prepared and better equipped to respond to such surges," he added. "This is the reason why the national government continues to collaborate and spearhead programs with private sector partners, as we continue to scale up our vaccination program."
The government is ramping up the administration of booster shots by partnering with private drug store chains and health clinics.
"With this new program and the concerted effort among all sectors of society, we are confident that we will be able to achieve our goal of fully inoculating 77 million Filipinos within this quarter and administer booster shots to more than 72 million of our countrymen," Galvez said.
"Rest assured that the national government will continue to find better and more efficient ways to improve our vaccination program so that we can get Covid-19 jabs into the arms of as many Filipinos as possible at the soonest possible time, put an end to the pandemic, and revive our nation’s economy," he added. (PNA)