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'Clearly not off to a good start': Senator scores gov't for delayed vaccination program
President Rodrigo Duterte holds a meeting with members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) at the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang on April 27, 2020.
Presidential Photo/Karl Norman Alonzo

'Clearly not off to a good start': Senator scores gov't for delayed vaccination program

(Philstar.com) - February 19, 2021 - 3:06pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 3:59 p.m.) — Commit to a vaccination timeline before making public statements, Sen. Risa Hontiveros told the National Task Force Against COVID-19, amid several delays in the shipment of the badly-needed jabs. 

Four days past February 15, which authorities previously said was the "indicative date" for the "mini rollout" of Pfizer vaccines to hospitals, there are no jabs on the way and there seems to be no official starting date for the government's inoculation program.

The 600,000 Sinovac vaccines donated by China are also stalled and are unlikely to arrive by the promised date of February 23, Malacañang said Thursday, owing to the lack of emergency use authorization from local regulators.

"The only thing they are achieving at this point is confusing the public," Hontiveros said.

"It's as if they are playing darts on the calendar, not caring where it lands. They should have some accountability for the [dates] they announce," she added in Filipino.

Amid all these delays, the national government is further easing restrictions, taking heat for allowing the reopening of cinemas and for floating a nationwide shift to a more relaxed modified general community quarantine next month.

"As long as the cases of COVID-19 are rising, we cannot relax health protocols and we cannot fully open up the economy," Hontiveros said. "Any delay in the vaccination rollout means people will have to face tremendous suffering in the pandemic for even longer."

'Stop relying on excuses, distractions'

As it stands, the senator noted, the country's vaccination is "clearly not off to a good start."

Despite the varying explanations offered by officials, for Hontiveros, "the major stumbles of the NTF could have been avoided with due diligence."

She further scored officials for making "excuses", such as the lack of vaccines available for purchase due to the hoarding of more developed countries often cited by vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr.

"I hate to hear that they keep on using the lack of global supply as an excuse when Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan, also developing countries, have already begun their vaccination program with Pfizer and Astra Zeneca," Hontiveros said.

"Those are the same brands of vaccines we were supposed to have received by now."

"What this means is that the problem lies with us," she added in Filipino.

Hontiveros further urged the national government to stop invoking the arrival of China-donated Sinovac vaccines as "a distraction from their mistakes."

"Every time the date for the vaccine rollout is moved, they add that we shouldn’t worry because Sinovac is coming."

"It's like they're using the gifted vaccines to cover-up their shortcomings," she said in Filipino.

"Have a sense of responsibility to our people and even more so a sense of urgency," Hontiveros urged.

One of the main causes for the delay, according to Galvez, is the need for an indemnity program that would shift any liability for the newly-developed vaccines from their manufacturers to the government. The COVAX facility and other suppliers only recently notified the Philippines of this requirement, according to the vaccine czar. 

Both chambers of Congress are expected to pass on Monday counterpart bills that would create an indemnity fund as well as speed up vaccine procurement in other ways. 

Galvez sorry for the delay but says other countries are struggling too

Galvez on Friday apologized for the delay in the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, adding that he was embarrassed as the lead person in charge of their procurement. 

Addressing Metro Manila Mayors during a Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic (C.O.D.E.) Team visit to Pateros aired on RTVM, the vaccine czar acknowledged in Filipino that the country is "a little late" in rolling out its inoculation program.  

"We had expectations, we said that we would have vaccinations by mid-February but we can see that the situation is very hard in terms of global supply and demand," he said in a mix of Filipino and English, repeating what Hontiveros earlier slammed as excuses. 

Galvez noted that some developed countries, such as Australia, have not yet started their vaccination programs while Japan made its own cautious start very recently. "What we should be doing is what's called a measured and calibrated vaccination," he said partially in Filipino. 

"Konting pasensya lang po, pasensya lang po talaga, kasi hindi po natin hawak ang supply chain...sa vaccine (Just a little patience, just a little more patience, because we do not hold the supply chain [for] the vaccine," he urged.

One of the main causes for the delay, Galvez said earlier this week, is the need for an indemnity program that would shift any liability for the newly-developed vaccines from their manufacturers to the government. The COVAX facility and other suppliers only recently notified the Philippines of this requirement, according to the vaccine czar. 

Both chambers of Congress are expected to pass on Monday counterpart bills that would create an indemnity fund as well as speed up vaccine procurement in other ways. 

— Bella Perez-Rubio with a report from Xave Gregorio

COVID-19 NOVEL COROANVIRUS RISA HONTIVEROS SENATE
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