"From where we sit, we are still losing the war to an unseen enemy."
The country’s vaccine czar has been doing quite a bit of apologizing lately. None of this is good for public confidence amid a pandemic.
Last week, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. apologized for the delay in the mass vaccination program as the President expressed displeasure over the late start.
Speaking at a meeting of the Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic team in Pateros, Galvez appealed for “some patience.”
“I apologize, because we don’t control the supply chain for our vaccines,” he said.
He added that the Philippines wasn’t the only country struggling to get a supply of vaccines, most of which have been cornered by wealthy nations.
He said the country was continuing talks with the World Health Organization-led COVAX facility to get vaccines earmarked for less developed countries and was hopeful that it would fulfill its commitment to supply the Philippines with 44 million doses.
Galvez had earlier crowed about how 108 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines had already been secured—only to admit upon questioning before the Senate that no supply contracts have yet been signed.
It is understandable, of course, for Galvez to blame the delays on a global shortage of vaccines. But this begs the question why of 10 countries in Southeast Asia working under the same tight supply environment, the Philippines is one of only three that have yet to receive any COVID-19 vaccines.
While our neighbors have launched or are ready to launch their inoculation programs, none of our officials can even tell us what day the vaccines will arrive.
Besides, the COVAX program, which is supposed to ensure the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, should have addressed that problem, at least partially. Yet a COVAX shipment of Pfizer vaccines that was supposed to arrive in mid-February did not arrive, because the Philippines had not done the paperwork on an indemnification fund required by COVAX and vaccine manufacturers.
Galvez said he asked lawmakers in mid-January for a bill that would provide such a fund, but Congress is scrambling only now to finish the legislation. And until recently, a Palace spokesman even said there was no need to certify the bill as urgent.
And even the much-ballyhooed Chinese vaccines have yet to reach our shores—except those that were brought in illegally and secretly administered to the President’s security team.
Of course, it would be unfair to put all the blame on Galvez, a former military general.
That, in turn, may be traced to President Duterte’s penchant for appointing ex-generals to top government posts, including the task force overseeing the management of the COVID-19 crisis.
When Galvez was appointed in March 2020 as the chief implementer of the government’s national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said his experiences in the military would help address the problem of logistics, including the lack of personal protective equipment and ventilators.
At the time, the Palace said the country needed “men and women trained in the art of warfare” since the Philippines was in a “state of war against an unseen enemy.”
“They are not embroiled in bureaucratic rigmaroles (sic). They abhor useless debates, they are silent workers, not voracious talkers. They act without fanfare. They get things done,” then-presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
How, we are compelled to ask, has the military approach to a public health crisis worked out? Are things getting done? Because from where we sit, we are still losing the war to an unseen enemy—and that is no reason for confidence.