The initial delivery of 487,200 COVID-9 vaccine doses of the British-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca arrived in the country on Thursday night. That shipment is part of the 4.58 million doses of AstraZeneca and 117,000 doses of Pfizer allocated for the country by the COVAX facility.
As the Philippines’ COVID-19 vaccination program finally gets underway and gathers steam, the World Health Organization reminded that lapses in vaccination priorities could risk the country’s share in the COVAX facility. Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO representative to the country, stressed that the government’s priority list should be followed, particularly health workers and the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
“To access these vaccines and then the remainder that will be coming to the Philippines before the end of the year, [it] needs to demonstrate that they can first rollout the vaccines in an efficient manner,” he said in a briefing. He added that a proper rollout will also include minimizing the wastage of jabs, as well as ensuring that storage management is done efficiently.
The WHO official has reason to remind the Philippine government of the vaccination priority list after members of the Presidential Security Group were among the first in the country to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, with unauthorized and smuggled vaccines nonetheless. Local regulators have hit a “blank wall” after the PSG refused to cooperate with the investigation on orders from their principal. The same smuggled vaccines have been illegally used by columnist Mon Tulfo and other government officials yet investigations are expected to go nowhere.
Health workers are at the top of the government’s own priority list to get the jabs. But only days into the vaccinations, reports of some officials being vaccinated despite not being on the list has drawn flak. Sought for comment, the presidential spokesperson admitted to “breaches” in the vaccination program.
A government that follows rules only when convenient and allows violators to get away scot-free deserves being reminded of the proper use of COVAX facility vaccines and the repercussions for violations now that the doses are officially in the country.
Using smuggled vaccines jump the line is one thing, but only the shameless would allow the powerful and connected access to the more desirable COVAX facility vaccines, risk an entire country’s share and endanger its already massively delayed vaccination effort.*