FIVE mayors who received COVID-19 vaccines ahead of healthcare workers were issued show-cause orders yesterday by the Department of Interior and Local Government.
Interior Undersecretary for operations Epimaco Densing III said the department believes the five mayors violated the anti-graft practices act, and were thus asked to explain their action.
Local executives are not in the priority list of the government’s national vaccination drive which started on March 1.
Priorities are frontline health workers. The World Health Organization has told countries receiving vaccines through the COVAX Facility, like the Philippines, to follow the priority list or they could lose their allocations from the global vaccine-sharing initiative.
The Department of Health asked the public to report individuals, including government officials, who are jumping the vaccine priority line.
“Let us guard our vaccines. This is a very important resource now that we are in a pandemic. We should give them first to the appropriate sector,”
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a briefing.
“Nobody jumps the line. The most important people to be vaccinated at this time are healthcare workers. Let us not take what is intended for our frontliners,” she also said.
After healthcare workers, in the priority list are senior citizens, persons with comorbidity, frontline personnel like soldiers and policemen, essential workers or economic frontliners, and indigent persons.
There are about 1.7 million healthcare workers. When the national vaccination drive started, the country had a supply of only about 1.1 million doses — 600,000 doses of vaccines made by the Chinese firm Sinovac Biotech and almost 500,000 doses of vaccines made by the British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca Plc, sent through COVAX.
The vaccines are administered in two doses per person. Yesterday, another 400,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines, also donated by China, arrived in the country.
The five mayors issued show-cause orders are Alfred Romualdez of Tacloban City in Eastern Samar; Dibu Tuan of T’boli, South Cotabato; Sulpicio Villalobos of Sto. Nino, South Cotabato; Noel Rosal of Legazpi City, Albay; and Abraham Iba of Bataraza, Palawan.
Densing said the department will also seek an explanation from other mayors who were reported to have received the vaccine. He declined to name them.
“Well, sa tingin namin may paglabag kaya pinaldahan ho namin… on its way na ang show-cause orders. (Well, we think there was a violation that’s why we sent… show-cause orders),” he said.
Densing said the five mayors were asked to explain why they had themselves vaccinated. Romualdez and several other local executives have said they got the jab because they wanted to convince their constituents to also get inoculated.
“This is more administrative in nature,” said Densing when asked what penalties will be imposed on the mayors.
If the mayors could not give a satisfactory explanation, the DILG will endorse a complaint against them before the Office of the Ombudsman which Densing said would decided on administrative sanctions.
Densing also said he was angered by the vaccination of show business personality Mark Anthony Fernandez in Parañaque City last Monday.
“Meron tayong priority list na dapat ini-implement, may programa na sinusunod diyan so yung mayor diyan naman e dapat sinusunod yung programa. (We have a priority list that should be implemented, we have a program that should be followed so the mayor there should follow the program),” said Densing, referring to Mayor Edwin Olivarez.
“Napakalamya ng kanyang pag iimplement ng vaccination program niya. Isang tao na labas sa priority list ang nabakunahan. (His implementation of the vaccination is very weak. A person not in the priority list was vaccinated),” Densing said of Olivarez.
He said Olivarez may be sanctioned under the “command responsibility” principle for not properly implementing the vaccination program.
Densing said a vaccine dose given to a person not in the priority list means one frontline worker deprived of protection from the coronavirus.
Romualdez justified his inoculation, saying he took the shot, even if he knew he is not in the priority list, to boost the confidence of others who were scared to be vaccinated with the Sinovac vaccine.
Before he took the shot last Monday, there were only 350 who were inoculated in the city.
The number included 85 healthcare workers, out of the 160 who registered.
Before his inoculation, Romualdez said, health workers told him they want to be vaccinated with him, apparently thinking that he was waiting for a better brand.
Thus, Romualdez said, he took the shot. He noted unused vaccines will be returned to National Capital Region.
Romualdez said after he got the jab, the number of vaccinees rose from 350 to 790.
Based on latest data, the DOH said 508,332 vaccines have been administered out of the 1,125,600 doses available in the Philippines.
Of the 1.1 million doses, 98 percent or 1,105,500 doses have been deployed to 1,759 vaccination sites nationwide.
“The seven-day average of daily vaccinated individuals is 32,756,” said the DOH.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the arrival of the additional Sinovac vaccines is timely, considering a rising number of COVID infections.
The shipment was brought in by a Philippine Airlines plane from Beijing.
Duque said the additional doses will continue to be allocated for healthcare workers.
“We shall see to it that all of our healthcare workers, not just in the National Capital Region, but in the whole country, are given the protection they need and deserve for being at the forefront of the battle against the virus,” Duque said.
The DOH also said the country is expecting some 2 million more doses by the end of the month.