By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Groups frowned at Presidential spokesperson’s comment saying that Filipinos cannot afford to be choosy when it comes to the brand of COVID-19 vaccine.
In a statement, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro said, “When it comes to public health and public funds, it is right and just for the people to be ‘choosy’ to make sure that government will procure the most number of doses to be able to vaccinate more people using the vaccine that is most cost-efficient and effective.”
Since last year, President Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly proclaimed that the answer to the pandemic is “only vaccine” amid mounting criticisms to the government’s poor response only to “drop the ball” amid the negotiations.
As of this writing, the Philippine national government has already secured 2.6 million doses of vaccines from United Kingdom’s AstraZeneca, 30 million from India’s Covovax, and 25 million from China’s Sinovac. Local government units in Metro Manila are also holding their own negotiations with pharmaceutical companies, but will only be able to procure through a tripartite agreement with the national government.
Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said the Palace should not dismiss the public’s concern over their health and safety, adding that “whether the vaccine that will be used to inoculate the public for free is bought or donated, the law mandates that it be certified safe and effective.”
National strategy still missing
Health advocates are still waiting for a definitive plan for the vaccine rollout as parallel efforts of the local government and the private sector may undermine or diminish the national responsibility for COVID-19 response.
“The history of devolution of health services is riddled with inequality and politicization of essential services. Indeed, major cities can proudly flaunt their millions in purchasing thousands of doses, but behind them are struggling municipalities with economies decimated by the lockdowns and natural calamities, and health systems unable to cope with the pandemic,” the Coalition for People’s Right to Health said in a statement.
The group said the DOH has yet to come up with an administrative order on the vaccine rollout, which must be presented and communicated to the public as soon as possible. Even rich countries such as the United States have found vaccine distribution and administration a logistical nightmare amid increasing number of daily COVID-19 cases and consequent deaths.
The CPRH said, “allowing unbridled parallel procurement of LGUs and the private sector risks undermining not just the institutional integrity of the top health agency, but also the prioritization scheme itself. The established list will be rendered useless if, in the long run, others will be vaccinated first before the more vulnerable individuals.”