Envoy: UK wonât accept ânurse for vaccineâ proposal
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is proposing to deploy more nurses to the UK and Germany in exchange for their providing the Philippines with some 600,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
AFP/Fethi Belaid

Envoy: UK won’t accept ‘nurse for vaccine’ proposal

Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - February 25, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The United Kingdom has no plans to link the Philippines’ procurement of COVID vaccines to the deployment of Filipino nurses and other health care workers (HCWs) to the UK.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is proposing to deploy more nurses to the UK and Germany in exchange for their providing the Philippines with some 600,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

“We’ve got no plans to link vaccines with those conversations around the recruitment of nurses,” UK Ambassador Daniel Pruce told journalists at a virtual press briefing yesterday.

“You know, those two strands of conversation I think continue, but as I’ve said again, we have no plans to link those two issues,” Pruce said.

Pruce confirmed that the proposal was raised by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III during their conversation a few weeks ago, but declined to give details.

He said the hiring of Filipino health care workers is done based on the British government’s policy decision in terms of managing the flow of health care professionals.

Britain’s health ministry said it was not interested in such a deal since its priority was to use shots domestically.

A report of British newspaper The Independent said the UK has no plans to agree to a vaccine deal with the Philippines that is linked to recruitment of nurses.

The report quoted a UK Health and Social Care official, who said the UK is grateful to the 30,000 Filipinos working tirelessly on the frontline of the pandemic.

“Our priority is to ensure coronavirus vaccines are made available to the UK public first, but we also recognize that this virus will not be beaten until it is defeated in every country,” the official said.

“We have confirmed that we will share any surplus vaccines in the future, for example, through the COVAX international procurement pool.”

Pruce acknowledged that thousands of Filipino health care workers in Britain have made a significant contribution to the COVID-19 response of the National Health Service (NHS).

The NHS, he said, is keen on sustaining the continuous flow of these professionals from the Philippines to the UK.

“We continue to discuss with the government of the Philippines the arrangements whereby Filipino health care workers can continue to work in the UK, primarily in the NHS,” he added.

Pruce said the UK has committed any vaccine excess it may have would be directed through the COVAX or COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access facility of the World Health Organization.

“It will be through the COVAX facility that distribution of surplus vaccines to developing countries will be managed in a fair and equitable way,” Pruce said.

COVAX is a global initiative aimed at providing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, led by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

Not Rody’s idea?Malacañang clarified that the offer to send health care workers to the United Kingdom and Germany in exchange for COVID vaccines is not President Duterte’s idea, but it welcomed the proposal as it would augment supply.?Various sectors have criticized the offer, calling it dehumanizing and an act of desperation.

Migrante International accused the DOLE of using Filipino HCWs as bargaining chip to secure vaccines.

“This is clearly a desperate move by the Duterte government because it has failed to safeguard the Filipino people from the COVID health crisis and address the worsening economic crisis that has brought about historic levels of unemployment and poverty in the country,” Migrante said in a statement.

The group said the Duterte government has no respect for and undervalues the critical contributions of the Filipino HCWs.

Labor coalition Nagkaisa scored the government for using Filipino nurses as barter to secure vaccines.

Critics also claimed that the proposal reflected the flaws of the administration’s vaccination strategy.?Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Philippines has secured more than enough COVID vaccines.?“We respect all the opinions of our countrymen because we have freedom of expression in the Philippines. But it is not an idea of the President. It is the idea of (Labor) Secretary (Silvestre) Bello (III) and (Foreign Affairs) Secretary (Teodoro) Locsin (Jr.) and we welcome it because more is better than less,” Roque said at a press briefing yesterday.

The DOLE said the negotiation to secure vaccines from the UK and Germany is meant to protect the HCWs set for deployment abroad.

“DOLE wishes to correct the sort of misquoted notion by some quarters about the intentions of sending or lifting of the cap in the number of nurses being requested by the UK and Germany. DOLE does not intend to treat our nurses as a commodity to be traded for vaccines,” DOLE information and public service director Rolly Francia said.

Considering the generosity of the UK and German governments, Francia expressed DOLE’s belief that these countries would provide more vaccines for those they would hire and workers intending to seek employment abroad.

The Department of Health (DOH) for its part said it was not consulted over a reported plan to trade off health workers for COVID-19 vaccines.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said they were not even aware of such exchange between our “government and other governments for this matter.”

“We think if there is such kind of negotiation, this should be presented to the Inter-Agency Task Force so the IATF could decide on this,” Vergeire said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon scored the DOLE for the supposed barter plan of HCWs, saying the move is a sign of desperation.

Drilon said the DOLE’s palit bakuna initiative is a wrong policy and sets a bad precedent.

“For the government to go this far as trading off its Filipino health care workers in exchange for vaccines means something is not right in the government’s coronavirus vaccination strategy,” he said. –  Alexis Romero, Mayen Jaymalin, Sheila Crisostomo, Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla

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