Gov't ready to move on after 'breaches' in vaccine priority list

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 5) — After admitting that some government officials jumped the priority list for the limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines allocated for medical frontliners, the Duterte administration said it is now ready to move forward after learning its lesson.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Thursday acknowledged there was a breach in the priority list when Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya and MMDA Chief of Staff Michael Salalima received their Sinovac shots this week.

Roque said the two did it "in good faith," claiming they were prompted by officials at the Pasay General Hospital to take the shots to help build public confidence. During the vaccination ceremony, Pasay City Vice Mayor Noel Boyet del Rosario — who is not a medical frontliner — was also inoculated. Roque said Malaya claimed he was unaware that government health advisers rejected the request to allot doses for "influencers" and public officials.

The presidential spokesperson said it is now clear that no unauthorized government official can cut the line. He added this incident was part of the learning process of the ongoing vaccination program launched on Monday.

"Hindi po tayo perfect sa pagpapatupad nitong protocol, nagkaroon tayo ng kakaunting breaches pero we have learned from the breaches and now everyone knows medical frontliners muna," he said in a media briefing.

[Translation: We are not perfect in carrying out the protocols. There were some breaches, but we have learned from them. Everyone now knows that medical frontliners should be first.]

It was not the first time government officials violated the priority list. Officials have admitted that President Rodrigo Duterte’s close-in security team received smuggled COVID-19 vaccines made by Chinese firm Sinopharm as early as late 2020 despite the absence of regulatory approval. Duterte's former special appointee, Mon Tulfo, also revealed that he and thousands of other government officials, soldiers, and police personnel have been inoculated with Sinopharm.

Duterte only allowed the early vaccination of three top government officials, but they too are not healthcare workers: Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., testing czar Vince Dizon, and MMDA Chairman Benhur Abalos. They were all vaccinated on the first day of the rollout.

The World Health Organization warned that the Philippines may not be able to receive more vaccines if it continues to breach the vaccine priority list. Among the requirements of the COVAX facility for the Philippines to keep getting donated vaccines is to follow the prioritization line, which is to inoculate all healthcare workers, then the elderly and people with co-morbidities.

RELATED: PH non-compliance to COVAX may ‘jeopardize’ allocated vaccines

The 487,200 AstraZeneca doses that arrived on Thursday from the COVAX facility are expected to be allocated for these priority groups. The Philippines could risk losing millions more of vaccine doses if it fails to follow the requirement.