DOH studying sanctions on government officials jumping vaccine lines

The Department of Health is studying what possible sanctions could be imposed against government officials and other individuals who got vaccinated against COVID-19 although they are not on the priority list as the supply of jabs in the country remains limited. 

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, in a press briefing,  said they were studying sanctions such as possible administrative cases against erring officials, as health workers are supposed to be priority for vaccination.

“That is being discussed right now. So, possible that there are administrative cases, possible sanctions, and possible violations based on our existing policies,” Vergeire said, without mentioning any government official. 

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority public services head Michael Salalima were prompted to get vaccinated at the Pasay General Hospital. 

This, as government’s inoculation drive, went underway with the arrival of COVID-19 jabs from China’s Sinovac. A new batch of vaccines, this time by AstraZeneca, arrived on Thursday through the vaccine-sharing COVAX facility. 

In good faith

In a briefing Thursday, Roque said the said officials received the shots “in good faith.” 

“The two, in good faith, thought that they were doing the nation a service by having themselves vaccinated because vaccine distrust is still high,” he said in a televised press briefing beamed nationwide. 

With the arrival of vaccine doses from AstraZeneca, Vergeire warned that the doses must be allotted to front line health workers, following COVAX guidelines, to avoid “jeopardizing” the agreement set between the Philippines and the global vaccine-sharing platform. 

“If we commit violations, this might jeopardize the succeeding supplies to be given by the COVAX facility. So we appeal to the public: we will all have our turn. Allow the hospitals, health workers to receive the vaccines,” Vergeire said.

Around 13,000 health workers in the Philippines have been inoculated as of Friday. 

According to Vergeire, there are an estimated 1.8 million health workers in the country./Willie Casas

Vaccine prioritization 

Vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said, due to the limited global supply of vaccines and following the recommendation of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) along with the directive of President Rodrigo Duterte, the allocation of vaccines must strictly follow the priority framework issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases to ensure that those who have the highest risk of exposure and death will be protected. 

“The framework prioritizes medical frontliners and healthcare workers to be followed by our senior citizens and other sectors. This prioritization primarily ensures that we will be able to protect and preserve our healthcare system as we continue to battle this pandemic,” said Galvez in a statement issued through the Department of Health. 

The same priority groups have also been identified by the World Health Organization with respect to the vaccine rollout of almost 44 million doses from the COVAX facility.

All the doses from COVAX must first be administered to the agreed upon priority groups starting with healthcare workers.

Giving the vaccines to other sectors when not all healthcare workers have been vaccinated will jeopardize succeeding deliveries from COVAX, he said.

He added: “Hence, all vaccine supplies that we have received and will be delivered this month are specifically allocated to all healthcare workers from all regions across the country.

“Initial deliveries for April will also follow this allocation until we have completely inoculated nearly two million individuals under this sector. “

The succeeding sectors in the priority list, including those who will take part in boosting public trust on the vaccines, will be attended as soon as we receive the supplies for the second and third quarters. 

He said: “We remind our countrymen especially our co-workers in government that in these trying times, it is our moral obligation to ensure that our healthcare system is protected and will be able to withstand possible spikes in COVID 19 cases. 

“By respecting and following the priority framework, we will be able to reduce COVID-19 morbidity and mortality, protect the populations most at-risk to the disease, slow down the transmission rate, and minimize social and economic disruptions. We need to preserve our healthcare institution.”

‘No VIPs in pandemic

Former Speaker and Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano has appealed to his fellow government officials to refrain from using their positions to get “VIP” treatment, especially in programs such as the COVID-19 vaccination.

Cayetano said there should be no VIPs in the COVID-19 pandemic, especially since many local government units were still worried that they might not be given or might not be able to afford the COVID-19 vaccines.

Cayetano made the statement in response to Galvez Jr.’s statement on investigating a congresswoman for getting inoculated ahead of medical frontliners.

Earlier this week, Galvez said Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan, who sits as chair of the House committee on health, would be subject to an investigation on allegations that she had received a Sinovac vaccine shot as a substitute for her eldest son who was said to be a doctor at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC).

Tan has yet to make a comment on Galvez’s statement.

Cayetano said he would leave it up to the proper authorities to investigate and decide whether or not there was a valid reason for the congresswoman’s inoculation.

Information campaign

Meanwhile, Cayetano said the government should conduct a massive information campaign about its efforts to support the people during the pandemic as many remain uninformed of the benefits they can get from government programs such as Bayanihan 2.

“The information campaign and going to the media may not have been enough. They should go down to the barangay level and explain so that the process of giving what assistance is left can become easier,” he said.

Cayetano and his allies have been pushing for the immediate passage of House Bill 5897 or the 10K Ayuda Bill which aims to provide Filipino families, especially the poorest of the poor, with P10,000 in cash aid that would help them through the pandemic while the country waits for the full implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination plan.

Cayetano has said the 10K Ayuda – assistance – can be distributed more easily because the Department of Social Welfare and Development already has a system to do it.

Topics: Department of Health , COVID-19 , Maria Rosario Vergeire , AstraZeneca
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