BY GERARD NAVAL and VICTOR REYES
THE Department of Health yesterday told administrators of COVID-19 vaccination sites they will be held accountable if individuals who are not in the priority list of vaccine recipients are inoculated in their areas.
This developed as the Department of Interior and Local Government said it is looking into the case of four mayors who got themselves inoculated ahead of frontline health workers.
One of the mayors, Alfred Romualdez of Tacloban City, was shown on pictures and a video posted on his Facebook account receiving the jab on Monday. The video caption said Romualdez, “a COVID-19 survivor,” was inoculated with the vaccine made by Sinovac Biotech by a “DOH nurse at the City Health Office.”
Romualdez said that as a mayor, he is also a frontliner, and he did it to encourage others to get the shot.
The national vaccination program which started on March 1 lists frontline medical workers as among the top priority.
There are about 1.7 million health workers as against the current supply of about 1.1 million doses, composed of 600,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines, which were donated by China, and almost 500,000 doses of vaccines made by the British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca Plc.
Both vaccines are administered in two doses per person.
The AstraZeneca vaccines came from the World Health Organization-led COVAX Facility, a global vaccine-sharing initiative. The WHO has warned the Philippines that its allocations under COVAX might be jeopardized if the vaccines are given to non-medical frontliners.
Interior Undersecretary for operations Epimaco Densing said the department is looking into the case of Romualdez and three other mayors he did not identify.
“I’ll just have these allegations verified before we issue the SCOs (show-cause orders) to at least four mayors,” he said.
Dr Nikka Hao, head of the DOH Disease Prevention and Control Bureau, said in a press briefing that those in charge of the vaccine rollout will be held accountable if there will be incidents of line jumpers.
“As for our policy, the accountability lies with the head of the institution. That means, the head of the hospital if it is healthcare workers, or the local government units,” said Hao.
“They are to be made accountable for the lapses in the prioritization framework,” she added.
Hao said incidents of non-priority individuals getting vaccinated are being reported and investigated.
She stressed the priority list must be followed or the Philippines could lose its COVAX allocations.
“Not doing such will risk us not receiving future supplies, not only from COVAX but even in our other engagements,” she said. “This is all part of the agreements that we have to follow under the national vaccination deployment plan.”
Aside from the four mayors, other local government officials recently said they have been vaccinated.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said vaccination priorities have not changed and it should still be the medical frontliners who should be vaccinated first.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said Monday night said government is considering the simultaneous inoculation of different priority sectors, including senior citizens, those with comorbidities, and economic and service frontliners, in the vaccination program, once more vaccines arrive
In a briefing on Tuesday, he said the Interim National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (iNITAG) will meet today to discuss, among others, the priority sectors for vaccines that would start arriving this week including the additional 400,000 doses of Sinovac.
Galvez reported to President Duterte and the Interagency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) on Monday night that the United States, Israel and Indonesia have sped up their vaccination rollout after they started vaccinating other sectors alongside the inoculation of their health workers.
He said the US, after inoculating 11 percent of its healthcare workers, expanded the vaccination to the other sectors of the population such as the essential workers and those ages between 16 to 64 years old who has medical conditions and has now vaccinated more than 75 million. Israel, he said, started inoculating their population by age after vaccinating 50 percent of healthcare workers.
Galvez, on Tuesday, said the inoculation of the other sectors is most likely to happen by May but the iNITAG will discuss this further to speed up the program.
The country expects to receive some 2.4 million doses of Sinovac and AstraZeneca this month; 5.5 million doses from Sinovac, Gamaleya, and COVAX next month; 8.974 million doses in May from Sinovac, Gamaleya, AstraZeneca, Moderna and under the COVAX; and 11.5 million doses in June from Sinovac, Gamaleya, AstraZeneca and Novovax.
President Duterte reiterated that borrowed funds for the vaccination funds are still with lending banks which will directly release the money to the manufacturers once delivery of vaccines are set.
The President made the statement as he insisted that there is no corruption in the vaccination purchase and that some government critics are only trying to use the issue to score political points.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, who said he already wrote a letter to the Senate to explain the vaccine procurement process and the government’s anti-COVID efforts, reiterated the government allocated P82.5 billion for the total financing for vaccine procurement, logistics and other supplies including waste disposal.
He said the country’s vaccination rollout is funded through a P2.5-billion budget from the Department of Health budget and a P10-billion allocation from the Bayanihan 2, as well as financing from the World Bank with worth P24.3 billion, Asian Development Bank worth P19.5 billion, and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank worth P14.6 billion.
He said additional funds needed for the vaccination program will be sourced from the government savings and official development assistance. – With Jocelyn Montemayor