Department of Health (DOH) officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said Tuesday that she is now ready to be the next secretary of the agency, if she is offered the position.
Vergeire confirmed this in a press conference, saying that her experience as OIC in the last six months have let her see areas in which she could lead reforms.
“When I saw that, I saw the opportunity. I think this would convince me to really take on the position,” she said in a mix of Filipino and English.
“Now with all these things happening and with all the work that needs to be done, for us to really improve on our health care system, I think this is the appropriate time for me to help the country,” she added.
Vergeire had expressed reservations about being appointed DOH secretary, saying she wanted to continue serving the public even after six years.
She had also said that she will leave it up to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. whether or not he will appoint her as DOH secretary.
Marcos previously said that he would only appoint a DOH secretary if the country’s situation returns to normal in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Malacañang announced Vergeire’s appointment as DOH OIC on July 14, 2022.
The post of secretary at the DOH has remained vacant since Marcos took his oath as President in June 2022.
Vergeire also said the Philippines is no longer under a state where there should be strict COVID-19 restrictions, noting that cases have remained manageable.
She said she held this view, despite the World Health Organization (WHO) decision to maintain its declaration of a public health emergency of international concern due to COVID-19.
“We understand all the points for this WHO declaration and I think we are at the point where we are all cautious. Although we know the situation is manageable, we remain vigilant because of the different variants that are detected and the increases in cases in different parts of the world,” she said.
The United States said Monday that the national and public health emergencies declared just as the COVID-19 pandemic took grip three years ago will officially end May 11.
The end to both federal emergency declarations, which took effect in January 2020 under then-president Donald Trump, will see funds used to subsidize COVID medicines, medical insurance and other types of government aid related to the pandemic come to an end.
In other developments:
* Vergeire said the first batch of bivalent COVID-19 vaccines may arrive in the country by the end of March. The vaccines, which target the Omicron variant and the original form of the coronavirus, will come from COVAX facility, the United Nations-backed international vaccine-sharing scheme, Vergeire said. Since the Philippines started its inoculation program in March 2021, more than 73.8 million or 94.54 percent of eligible population in the country have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Of the figure, over 21.3 million have received their first boosters while 3.8 million have gotten their second boosters.
* Senator Risa Hontiveros urged the DOH to waive the existing vaccine non-disclosure agreements (NDA) on COVID vaccines for transparency, saying these agreements with private manufacturers have outlived their purpose. “It is now simply a violation of the public’s right to know how our money was spent. NDAs should no longer stand in the way of accountability and transparency,” she said. After about 44 million vaccine doses went to waste, she said it is high time the real cost is disclosed to the public.