Mayor jumps priority list, gets COVID-19 vaccine

Franco Luna - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines (Update 2, 6:01 p.m.) — Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez, who is not on the priority list for vaccination, was inoculated with a China-made Sinovac coronavirus vaccine on Monday. 

Under the government's national vaccination plan, healthcare frontliners are slated to receive the first jabs, followed by senior citizens and people with comorbidities. Only after both priority sectors can local chiefs receive vaccines. 

Yet in photos posted to his personal Facebook page, Romualdez is seen being administered a COVID-19 vaccine by a Department of Health nurse at the City Health Office. The same photos show he did so without a face mask on. 

A DOH Nurse deployed at City Health Office administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Mayor Alfred S. Romualdez today, after...

Posted by Alfred Romualdez on Sunday, 21 March 2021

"I was being true to myself and to what I said, that everything that hits us, hits me first. So, let me be your guinea pig first. As the Mayor, I am also a frontliner," he said in mixed Filipino and English, adding that he "felt fine" after his inoculation. 

The Tacloban mayor, the first local chief executive to publicly receive a coronavirus jab, later tried to spin the situation to his credit, saying he did it to boost vaccine confidence among his constituents. 

"Never say that I did it to save myself before others. I did it to make the people see that it was okay to get the vaccine," he said in a statement shortly after taking his jabs.

"I wanted our people to take it for protection, and so that the efforts of the national government will not be in vain." 

Whether or not he did it for vaccine confidence is beside the point, as medical collectives earlier pointed out that bypassing priority mocks the government's own regulatory processes. 

Philstar.com has reached out to the health department for comment, but it has not responded as of this post. 

Minglanilla mayor also skips line

Later Tuesday, Minglanilla City Mayor Elanito Peña also got vaccinated, this time with vaccines from AstraZeneca. 

The post has since been taken down. 

Earlier, Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, who serves as the World Health Organization's Representative to the Philippines, warned that failure to follow strict allocations of the vaccines could "impact and jeopardize future deliveries of vaccines through the COVAX facility to the Philippines."

The Department of Health echoed this pronouncement later Tuesday as it called on government officials "to await their turns and follow the approved prioritization framework being employed by the national government."

"The DOH once again emphasizes that because our vaccines are limited, these doses should first be given to our healthcare workers who most need and deserve it," the department told reporters in a text message, adding that  reports of non-healthcare workers being inoculated have already been referred to the DILG. 

"Moreover, as WHO Country Rep Dr. Rabi Abeyasinghe has previously emphasized, all doses must first be administered to the agreed upon priority groups starting with HCWs.  Giving the vaccines to non-HCWs when not all HCWs have been vaccinated will jeopardize succeeding doses from COVAX."

Earlier, Marikina City Mayor Marcy Teodoro disclosed that the national government rejected his request to be vaccinated with the Sinovac jabs. 

Health officials recorded 8,019 additional COVID-19 infections earlier Monday afternoon, bringing the national caseload to 671,792.

The number set a record high in daily coronavirus additions in the country, which has been on lockdown for 371 days—the longest quarantine in the world.

"Because everyone was scared and everyone was waiting for me. So I did it to lead my people out of fear. And I'm glad they responded positively!" Romualdez said. 

Malacañang urges DILG to investigate 'violation'

At a Palace press briefing later Tuesday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that Romualdez' inoculation violated the priority list and needs to be investigated. 

"Our [vaccination] priorities have not changed. As of now, it should be medical frontliners [that come first.] We will repeat: those who aren't medical frontliners cannot get vaccinated yet because this violates the order of priority. It also affects our future deliveries from the COVAX facility," he said in mixed Filipino and English. 

"Of course we regret this incident, but I will refer the matter to the [Department of the Interior and Local Government] for proper action because this needs to be investigated," he also said. 

The DILG earlier cleared Roque for attending an event in Cebu province where physical distancing was not practiced. It similarly cleared Sen. Manny Pacquiao over a similar violation.

Its spokesperson, Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, was the first to be vaccinated at the Pasay City General Hospital earlier this month, saying he did it to boost vaccine confidence. The Palace excused the incident. 

Roque earlier in January defended the members of the Presidential Security Group who got inoculated with illegal and smuggled vaccines that were not yet approved by the country's Food and Drug Administration. 

The Palace mouthpiece justified the move, saying it was done to protect the president despite uniformed personnel being fifth in the order of priorities for vaccination. 

"Let us stop this discussion," he said then. — with a report from James Relativo, Christian Deiparine




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