The Philippines might lose millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses from a global vaccine sharing pool should it fail to follow the priority list for vaccination drive, particularly the allocation of shots for health care workers, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned Thursday.
Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO representative to the Philippines, urged the government to appropriately roll out the vaccines from the COVAX Facility and minimize wastage to avoid “jeopardizing” future deliveries of vaccines from the worldwide initiative.
“We urge the DoH and all partners engaged in the rollout of the vaccines to follow these prioritizations, so we don’t impact and jeopardize future deliveries of vaccines through the COVAX facility to the Philippines,” Abeyasinghe said in a media briefing.
The WHO official underscored the need to ensure that COVAX’s requirements would be met, noting that healthcare workers be prioritized for the coveted shots, followed by the elderly and those with medical conditions.
“If we cannot demonstrate that we are following this prioritization, unfortunately, the COVAX may have to consider other options where the impact of the vaccine rollout will be more useful and practical and will contribute to saving more lives,” he said.
The official’s warning came amid reports that government officials, who are not health workers attending to Covid-19 patients, were recently inoculated with a coronavirus vaccine intended for frontliners.
The government is expected to launch a probe into the “unauthorized” inoculation of government officials, namely Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, MMDA Chief of Staff Michael Salalima, Quezon Rep. Angelina “Helen” Tan, and Pasay Vice Mayor Boyet del Rosario, who received Sinovac’s vaccines even if they are not part of the Covid-19 vaccine program’s priority group.
The shots did not come from COVAX Facility and were part of the 600,000 donated doses of Beijing.
Abeyasinghe cautioned the Philippines that the COVAX Facility would review reported violations on skipping the state’s priority list, even as he said that the WHO would not “police” the national immunization program.
“As I said, the primary purpose of the COVAX facility is to minimize the effect of the pandemic by protecting the most at risk and the most vulnerable,” Abeyasinghe said.
“If there are multiple reports of violation of that prioritization, the COVAX may have to decide how to address that challenge. My word of caution is let’s not go there,” he added.
Over 487,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, hailed by Abeyasinghe as “one of the largest consignments” in the initial batch of shipment to developing nations, was to arrive in the country late Thursday.
Philippine vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, on separate occasions said the government will look into the inoculation of non-health workers.
Tan, a doctor by profession, took the Covid-19 jab at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) as part of his eldest son’s allocation for the family as a surgeon at the said hospital last 2 March. She became the first known lawmaker to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
“I primarily took it as a rightful allocation provided for my son who works as a surgeon at the VMMC. Part of VMMC’s immunization program requires its employees to ‘submit a list of dependents — at least three immediate family members who would want to receive the Covid-19 vaccines’ which was presented to and approved by the National Vaccination Committee according to VMMC Director, Dr. Dominador Chiong,” she explained.
Tan added that she got vaccinated to help boost the public’s confidence in vaccines.
“As far as I know, I did not violate any existing laws, legal guidelines, or regulations whatsoever when I took the jab,” she stated.
Should an investigation be set in place, Tan said she is open to “submit” herself.
“I am ready to submit to satisfy the thirst for strife and controversy of some misguided individuals and more importantly, to enable the public to find out the truth of the matter and other controversial issues surrounding the immunization program for the greater interest of the country,” she pointed out.
Malaya and Salalima were prodded by the officials of the Pasay City General Hospital to have vaccination as well. In fact, they were asked if they want to be vaccinated.
Galvez, however, emphasized that the government does not authorize the immunization health workers’ dependents using the vaccines donated to the Philippines.
“There was no such directive. That’s wrong. We have to finish (inoculating) the 1.7 (million medical) frontliners first, we must not (vaccinate) dependents yet.
Our (vaccine) supplies are insufficient, that’s wrong, we will investigate (into) that,” Galvez said in a radio interview.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque likewise reiterated that the first batch of vaccines in the country is solely dedicated to medical frontliners.
The interim National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG), he underscored, has imposed a protocol on the Covid-19 vaccine priority list where health workers of the Covid-referral public and private hospitals will be prioritized.
“They thought they were doing service to the country, it was done in good faith. Undersecretary Malaya said he did not know NITAG prohibited it.
They (Malaya and Salalima) were prodded by the officials of the Pasay City General Hospital to have vaccination as well. In fact, they were asked if they want to be vaccinated,” Roque disclosed.
“I don’t think there is a need to tell anyone else now that only the medical frontliners will be given the vaccines,” he added, noting that family members are excluded.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration has earlier earned the public’s ire over the revelation that the Presidential Security Group has received smuggled Covid-19 vaccines made by Chinese firm Sinopharm as early as September 2020, despite the absence of regulatory approval.
His former special appointee, Mon Tulfo, also revealed that he and thousands of other government officials, soldiers, and police personnel have been inoculated with Sinopharm.