Duterte, Cabinet to be among last to get vaccine

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star
Duterte, Cabinet to be among last to get vaccine
President Duterte said he is ready to be among the last in the country to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to give way to priority groups and citizens, especially the poor and frontline workers.
Presidential photo / Toto Lozano

MANILA, Philippines — In other countries, heads of government are getting themselves vaccinated first to reassure the people about the safety and efficacy of the COVID shots.

Not so in the Philippines.

President Duterte said he is ready to be among the last in the country to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to give way to priority groups and citizens, especially the poor and frontline workers.

“The poor first, those who have nothing. If they (vaccines) come – millions of them – you can take your turn. We’ll be last,” he said in Filipino, citing the names of Sen. Bong Go and defense chief Delfin Lorenzana.

“We’ll have only what’s left. Let them have theirs first,” he said in his regular address to the nation Wednesday night.

“In the deployment of vaccines, our strategy will have geographical and sectoral considerations for priority population. We will prioritize the health workers to preserve and protect our healthcare system, then the poor and vulnerable sector, frontliners and essential public and private workers including OFW, low-income earners and seafarers,” he said.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the President just wants to make sure that the less fortunate would not be left behind in the vaccination program.

But to boost public confidence in vaccines and encourage Filipinos to get inoculated, Roque said the President would also be willing to be among the first to get vaccinated.

Duterte, who may have comorbidity issues, did not say if he would opt to benefit from herd immunity being pushed by the Department of Health (DOH) and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) for the rest of the population.

The President’s close-in security have been inoculated with Sinopharm, a Chinese vaccine not yet accredited by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Duterte said he wants to prioritize those who would have difficulty accessing the vaccines for lack of financial resources.

“If the vaccines come early by God’s mercy, frontline health workers; teachers, social workers and other government workers will be given first,” he said.

Essential non-health workers including those in the education, tourism and agriculture sectors will be next,” he said.

“Then, the socio-demographic groups; let’s see who should get prioritized. Then, there are the overseas Filipino workers; all remaining workers; other remaining workers; then, all remaining citizens,” Duterte said.

No discrimination

Duterte said the national government’s vaccination program aims to cover every Filipino.

“There is no discrimination here,” he said. He added that the poor are “vulnerable – nutrition-wise, no vitamins. So, they are vulnerable to getting the disease.”

“But, anyway, all will – will have their vaccines, I assure you. We will just prioritize some who are pitiful,” he said.

In the same speech, Duterte said the government would spend P82.5 billion to buy COVID-19 vaccines and fund the rollout of a massive immunization program.

“The significant updates of procurement and finance: vaccines – the source, unprogrammed funds; foreign multilateral and bilateral loans; domestic loans. These are all on deck,” he said. “In total, we have P82.5 billion for COVID. I think, that’s enough.”

Duterte also commended the plans of those in the private sector to procure vaccines to protect their own workers. “If there is enough supply and they can get outside of government structure, that’s better,” he said. Uniformed personnel would be fifth in the top priority list.

He also expressed his gratitude to private individuals and groups which have committed to help the government in its mass vaccination program. They include Manuel V. Pangilinan, the Ayalas, Joey Concepcion, Aboitiz Group, Unilab.

Pangilinan and the Ayalas are providing well-experienced supply chain managers and consultants to help the government in the endeavor.

“Let us give thanks for those persons mentioned and the agencies who are trying to – who are there to help us in the vaccination of the population,” he said.

“Well, we cannot remember everybody mentioned but sabihin ko na lang na magpasalamat ako sa inyo (let me say I’m grateful to you). It’s a big deal really for – for you to be conscious also of the problem and trying to give a helping hand,” Duterte said.

Doctors to decide

National Task Force against COVID-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said they are leaving it to the doctors of Duterte to determine which brand of vaccine to use for him.

“Whatever will be recommended by the doctors of the President that is good for him being a senior citizen, that is what we will do,” Galvez said at a briefing.

Galvez also said that vaccinating Duterte in public would increase the Filipinos’ acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines.

“That is good. We know that our beloved President has 91 percent popularity survey and we have seen that the public uptake of the vaccine will increase,” Galvez said. Nearly half of Filipinos are reluctant to get vaccinated due to safety concerns, according to a recent survey.

“The President said that he is willing to take whatever vaccine will come first. He will volunteer to be the first to be vaccinated even with Gamaleya and Sinovac,” Galvez said.

“Let us remove the discrimination to other vaccine because we have seen it was used in Singapore, it was used by Malaysia, by Turkey and Argentina. So, why don’t we use it? These are advanced countries compared to us,” Galvez said in defense of China’s Sinovac, which showed only 50.4 percent efficacy in preventing symptomatic infections during a trial in Brazil.

“Let us wait for the official pronouncement of our vaccine experts panel. There were pronouncements from different news. It has to be scientifically proven,” Galvez said.

Galvez also asked local government units to prepare for the vaccine rollout.

For the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), workers should be prioritized in the vaccination program if the government is serious about rebuilding the economy.

“The entire nation depends on workers to revive the economy, and they cannot do that if they are not given protection against the ravages of disease,” TUCP president Raymond Mendoza said.

“If these workers fall ill and the delivery of goods and services from the government is compromised, there are no alternatives to perform the job and the last line of defense against the pandemic will have fallen,” Mendoza pointed out.

Saving lives, jobs

Mendoza noted that several businesses closed down due to a spike in infections while some government offices had to suspend operations after many of their personnel got infected with COVID-19.

“This vaccine will save jobs and save lives, and it should be given to those who are most at risk – the workers,” he pointed out.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), for its part, has urged the people to get themselves vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 vaccines will only be able to end the pandemic in our country if enough Filipinos are vaccinated so we urge all of our people to be immunized when the vaccines arrive in the Philippines,” Tuguegarao Archbishop Ricardo Baccay, chairman of CBCP’s Office on Bioethics, said in a pastoral letter endorsed by CBCP president and Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles.

Baccay said the CBCP supports and commends the efforts of the government and the private sector for the procurement and deployment of the vaccines once made available in the country.

While acknowledging the efforts of the government and private sector, Baccay emphasized the need for a comprehensive single vaccine distribution plan that would prioritize medical frontliners and those most at risk for COVID-19. – Mayen Jaymalin, Jose Rodel Clapano, Robertzon Ramirez

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