Local government units (LGUs) need the green light from the national government before they can vaccinate the next priority group after frontline health workers.
The Department of Health (DoH) sternly reminded LGUs they cannot move ahead with their inoculation program unless the national government says so.
The Health department’s reminder comes on the heels of the controversy over the vaccination of actor Mark Anthony Fernandez in Parañaque City even before all the city’s medical frontliners had received Covid-19 shots.
Aside from Fernandez, several mayors also face investigation by the Department of the Interior and Local Government for moving up the line to have their shot.
Parañaque Mayor Edwin Olivarez explained during a television interview that Fernandez was vaccinated after 90 to 95 percent of the city’s medical frontliners were inoculated.
Olivarez also said Fernandez was in the “quick substitution list” that allows non-health workers to be inoculated.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire rebuffed Olivarez, saying LGUs should try their best to look for other frontline healthcare workers who have not been vaccinated.
Medical frontliners are first in line for inoculation, under the DoH’s priority scheme.
“As long as there are still health care workers who have not yet been vaccinated, you are supposed to continue and look for them and vaccinate them,” Vergeire told a media briefing on Friday.
She said only the DoH Central Office can declare when the next priority group will be vaccinated.
“Hindi naman po sa kinokontrol po natin nang husto, pero may mga detalye ang mga
bakuna na maari po naming ibigay sa inyo, as advice kung anong bakuna ang ibibigay sa senior citizen or a co-morbidity (We are not controlling them, but there are details that we can provide about vaccines, such as which ones will be used for seniors and those with comorbidities),” Vergeire said.
Moving to the next priority group without consulting the national government will also complicate efforts to maximize the country’s scarce supply of vaccines, she said.
Vergeire stressed that the names in a quick substitution list must come from the same priority group.
“Hindi po nating kailangang justification na masasayang ang bakuna kung tayo po ay hindi nakapagbigay ng instruction na ito…. maliwanag po ‘yan (The justification that the vaccines will be wasted if not administered is unacceptable. We are very clear on that),” she said.
During his press briefing on Friday, Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. stressed that government officials who get vaccinated out of turn face sanctions under the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Officials and Employees, but removal from office, while among the sanctions, would not be a corresponding penalty.
“May mga probisyon doon na pwedeng nalabag. Hindi naman siguro pagkatanggal agad pero meron pong karampatang parusa (Some provisions in the code of ethics may have been violated, but I don’t think removal from office is the corresponding punishment),” Roque said.
He said this oversight can be corrected by passing a national quarantine law that will specify penalties for not following the vaccination deployment plan,
Roque also said a quick substitution list is important because it contains the names of people who will receive the vaccine in case a healthcare worker cannot attend the inoculation session or refuses to get the vaccine.
“Hindi naman pwedeng masayang ‘yung mga vials na nabuksan na at kinakailangang magamit agad ‘yun (We cannot let opened vials go to waste, so we need to use them immediately),” Roque said.
But he reiterated that out-of-turn vaccinations cannot be tolerated because the Philippines could be deprived of vaccines to be donated by the World Health Organization-led Covax Facility.
For Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito-Castelo, “show-cause orders and citation of law or rules” are not punishment enough for public officials who cut into the vaccination line.
“We should have instant sanctions for vaccine queue jumpers and those with command responsibility to set the example for all concerned and the general public,” Hipolito-Castelo said.
coming down hard on erring officials, the government will prove it was “dead serious” in enforcing health and safety protocols amid the surge of Covid-10 infections, she said.
“As it is, there is the perception that only the small fry, like localized lockdown breakers, are caught and penalized instantly; while [those] in high places get away with infractions,” Hipolito-Castelo said.
She derided the “excuses” of vaccine line jumpers, who claimed they got themselves inoculated as “substitutes for healthcare workers, who were absent or refused the jabs.”
“That’s just an alibi. There are many doctors, nurses, medical practitioners, and hospital personnel, who are willing to take the vaccine to protect themselves from the virus and continue attending to patients,” she pointed out.
Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go also called out the line jumpers, urging them to follow the priority list so as not to jeopardize success of the vaccine program.
In a privilege speech Wednesday, Go said out-of-turn inoculations were unacceptable.
“How can we finish vaccinating our frontliners if there are people who find their way into the priority list? Do not jump ahead over our frontliners on vaccines because vaccinating them is the only way in ensuring the survival of our health care system. Let us not overtake, especially over those who are really in need,” he said in English and Filipino.
Go said that while he was not against local officials who wanted to get a Covid shot to improve the vaccine confidence of their constituents, the officials must ensure that frontliners were inoculated first.
The senator asked the National Task Force Against Covid-19 to provide the Senate with a list of those who have been inoculated with a Covid-19 vaccine.
Also on Friday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd said he would ask the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to move up overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the prioritization line.
From B5 or the 10th spot on the list, the OFWs will be put under A4, or the fourth priority, if Duque’s proposal is approved.
Duque said he would recommend that those who are health care workers be included in the A1 group, while OFWs who are senior citizens be classified as A2. Those with comorbidities may be raised to the A3 spot, he added.
“The rest will fall under A4. That is what [DoH] has agreed on, and I will propose it in the next IATF meeting [on Monday],” Duque said.
Duque made the announcement after lawmakers from the House of Representatives’ Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs reiterated their call to reclassify OFWs as essential workers. He said he would give them an update on the proposal by March 30.
WITH JAVIER JOE ISMAEL AND CURRIE CATOR