Cabinet officials assured President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday they are ready to roll out vaccines for the coronavirus to the countryside once they arrive in the country starting next month.
Vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told the President they would tap the country’s “bayanihan spirit” in tandem with businesses and local governments to help move the jab against the deadly disease.
Galvez, a former military general, also said the National Task Force on COVID-19 would use the logistics of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to bring the vaccine to the far-flung areas of the country’s 7,000-plus islands.
President Rodrigo Duterte said frontliners and vulnerable sectors will get the first shot of the vaccine when they reach the country, and that he will be among the last.
“Priority is uniformed personnel, mga sundalo natin, kasama sa priority, mauna talaga yung pobre, yung wala talaga. Kung milyon ‘yan (vaccine), magsabay-sabay na kayo, huli na kami,” he said.
“Kung may maiwan para sa amin kay (Senator) Bong (Go), kay (Secretary Delfin) Lorenzana, kung may maiwan eh di para sa atin, unahin natin sila,” Duterte added in the televised Cabinet briefing.
The President also said he is not forcing local government officials from getting the same vaccine brand if they have the resources to buy from other pharmaceutical companies.
“Many local governments opted to go on their own. They will use their own money to choose and buy their own vaccines. We are not forcing anybody to join the cause of the national government. Hindi namin pinipilit na sumali kayo sa ibibigay na bakuna ng national government,” Duterte added.
Duterte also told local government officials that although they have the freedom to choose which brand of vaccine to buy, there are still laws to follow.
“I’m now addressing myself to the mayors, governors. You can choose any vaccine you like to buy. We will not meddle in your choice. We will not interfere in the process of purchasing the vaccines,” he said.
“We have laws that all medicines, whatever their nature or characteristics may be, should first be checked by the government. The government will ultimately be affected. If 5,000 Filipinos suffer from the vaccines, I will be buried,” Duterte added.
Galvez on Wednesday said vaccines from US-based Pfizer and Moderna can only be used in areas with cold storage facilities such as Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao, while other vaccine candidates will be deployed to far-flung areas of the country.
Moderna’s vaccine needs to be stored at -20 degrees Celsius, while Pfizer’s needs to be stored at -70 degrees Celsius, but vaccines from China’s Sinovac, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, and Novavax will not require ultra-cold storage, Galvez said.
The United States, United Kingdom, and Indonesia use the same strategy, he said.
To store the vaccines, Duque III said his department has procured 10 ultra-low temperature freezers that can accommodate 550 liters.