THE Department of Health yesterday assured the public that vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) will be accessible to all.
In a statement, the DOH implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for Republic Act No. 11525 or the COVID-19 Vaccination Law would ensure “equitable access” to the vaccines.
“Any provisions that may be perceived to discriminate against any sector of the population from accessing COVID-19 vaccines is not considered in any policy, guideline, protocol that shall be issued by this government,” it also said.
The DOH statement was issued amid reports that draft IRR shows that “industries in conflict with public health” will be prohibited from acquiring their own vaccine supplies.
Several lawmakers have scored the draft order, saying it is considered to be discriminatory.
Sen. Imee Marcos, in a statement issued on Saturday, said she got hold of a “draft administrative order, about to be passed on for President Duterte’s signature, that will prevent the country’s largest manufacturers of tobacco, milk, sugar, soda, and alcohol, as well as multinational firms based in the Philippines from assisting the government’s national vaccination program.”
The health department said all government agencies composing the Vaccine Cluster of the National Task Force against COVID-19 (NTF) are still in the process of reconciling proposed provisions of the IRR with other laws and guidelines.
It also said the contents of the draft IRR are based on recommendations of different stakeholders. Comments and recommendations from different stakeholders are welcome until the finalization and approval of the IRR, it added.
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon warned Health Secretary Francisco Duque III he will call for a Senate investigation if Duque insists on banning private entities from taking part in the vaccination program.
He said prohibiting companies from procuring vaccines for their employees is patently “illegal and unauthorized” and can expose the DOH to “legal liabilities.”
“I am deeply disturbed by this report. If indeed such a draft administrative order exists, that is a clear violation of the COVID-19 Vaccination Act of 2021. Such a policy is discriminatory and morally unacceptable. The DOH does not have the authority to do that,” Drilon said in a statement.
“The law does not discriminate against or exclude companies based on their products, services or lines of business. The supposed administrative order, therefore, is discriminatory and it would go beyond the law and would constitute an actionable wrong,” said the former justice secretary.
Republic Act 11525 of the COVID-19 Vaccination Act of 2021 was passed by Congress last February to aid the speedy vaccination program against the coronavirus disease, Drilon noted.
Vice President Leni Robredo said it is impossible for government to achieve its target of herd immunity by the end of the year at the national vaccination program is going.
“We need to improve our vaccine rollout,” she said in a Facebook post, noting that data from the DOH shows that from March 1-17, about only 270,000 of some 1.7 million health frontliners were inoculated.
The Vice President issued the statement after the country recorded 7,999 COVID-19 cases last Saturday, the highest figure recorded in a day since the pandemic began a year ago.
Robredo lamented that the country is averaging only 15,857 shots daily, proof she said that the government is failing in achieving its vaccination target to achieve heard immunity.
Experts are saying herd immunity can be achieved if 60 to 70 percent of the population has acquired resistance to COVID-19.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier said the government cannot rush inoculating health frontliners because there will be no one left to attend to the needs of patients in hospitals if all of them will be inoculated at the same time.
Robredo said this has become a problem only because government refused to accept her proposal for it to prepare a deployment plan like what other countries did to expedite its vaccination program like in the United States where civilians were trained to administer vaccines.
She said US President Joe Biden ‘s promise of 100 million shots in 100 days was achieved in just 58 days by fixing their logistics and training vaccinators to augment the number of frontliners.
The Vice President reminded the government that she has long been asking it to train other non-frontliners who can help administer the shots and identify vaccination centers because concentrating on hospitals would surely lead to “bottlenecks.”
“This is what we have been asking since last year — prepare the deployment plan, treat it as a logistics problem, identify and train vaccinators, prepare large vaccination centers that will make possible a more efficient rollout. Totoo na problema pa ang supply ngayon. Pero yung konting supply na dumating sa atin, hindi pa natin ma-deploy with speed and dispatch (It’s true that vaccine supply is a problem now but we still can’t deploy with speed and dispatch the small supply that arrived here),” the Vice President said.
Robredo urged the administration to “assess where the bottlenecks are.” “One million pa lang supply natin, pero in 17 days hindi pa nga tayo naka 50 utilization, papaano na kung 70 million na ‘yung available? (We only have a supply of one million (vaccines), but in 17 days we couldn’t even achieve 50 percent utilization, what more if there are 70 million available vaccines),” she said.
She said the government has to ensure that massive testing, contact tracing and isolation are being undertaken, especially in areas that are on surgical lockdowns.
The previous 30,000 to 40,000 tests per day which was the target when cases were still low have to be stepped up now that the number of cases have reached unprecedented levels, Robredo said.
Robredo also urged the administration to make it easy for the private sector to procure vaccines, saying it needs all the help it can get.
“Private sector is a big, big help. Pero sana (But) let us not over regulate. Let us not make it difficult for private companies to participate. Wala sigurong problema for bigger companies (So it won’t be a problem for bigger companies) but for smaller businesses who only want to make their employees safe para makapag bukas na ng negosyo, huwag na natin masyadong pahirapan pa (so they could open their businesses, let’s not make it hard for them),” she said.
While she understands the need to follow rules and parameters, Robredo said there is no point in making it too difficult for private companies to procure vaccines “after all, for every Filipino who gets the vaccine, the entire community benefits.” – With Wendell Vigilia