Gov't to start vaccinating essential workers, indigents 'after May'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 18) —The government is expanding the vaccination priority group to the A4 and A5 clusters, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said on Tuesday.

The A4 group covers essential workers, frontliners in national government offices, and uniformed personnel, while the A5 cluster includes the indigent sector.

The official said the vaccination of A4 and A5 will start after this month or once the supply stabilizes.

"Magbubukas na tayo sa A4 at A5, timing na lang ang tinitignan natin. Iniinventory ang supply na darating at ang current inventory... I-announce po namin next week just in case kung makakapagsimula na po tayo sa A4 at A5," he said in a media briefing.

[Translation: We will open to the A4 and A5, it's all a matter of time. We are conducting an inventory of the arriving supply and current stockpile. We will announce next week when we can start their vaccination.]

RELATED: LIST: Who are included in the A4 priority group

During the meeting of key pandemic response officials with President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, Galvez suggested opening the COVID-19 vaccination to A4 and A5 to ensure that no vaccines go to waste.

Some 2 million doses of AstraZenaca vaccines are expiring soon — 1.5 million on June 30 and 500,000 in July.

The vaccine czar clarified that the soon-to-expire AstraZeneca vaccines cannot be used on the A4 group since it came from COVAX, a global initiative aiming for equitable vaccine access. Vaccines from COVAX can only be used by A1 (healthcare workers), A2 (seniors), A3 (people with comorbidities), and A5 groups. Doses procured by the government will be used by A1 to A4 groups.

Duterte said during the meeting that Galvez's recommendation is in line with his earlier order to vaccinate uniformed personnel and poor families as soon as possible.

He added that Galvez's call to vaccinate the A4 and A5 groups to prevent wastage is also similar to his previous order to rush the distribution of doses.

"If you dilly-dally, you run the risk of wasting. Kaya as many as we can, kung maaari day and night [if we can do it day and night], para we will not have stock of spoiled medication," the President said.

There are 12 million people in the A4 group, while 16 million people are listed as poor. Once the vaccination of these two groups kick off, they will be inoculated alongside healthcare workers, seniors, and people with comorbidities.

Galvez said major military and police camps will be used as vaccination sites for the A4 and A5 groups with the assistance of local government units.

Those in the A4 priority group must present a certificate of eligibility from their respective offices prior to their COVID-19 vaccination, which is expected to begin soon, according to Socioeconomic Planning Undersecretary Rose Edillon.

RELATED: A4 group should pre-register, show certificate of eligibility from office prior to vaccination

Biz groups happy with inclusion of A4 group

The Employers Confederation of the Philippines, an umbrella organization of business groups in the country, welcomed Duterte's decision to start the vaccination of essential workers.

ECOP President Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr. told CNN Philippines' Newsroom Ngayon the national government's latest move addresses the delay in the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines purchased by the private sector.

"Dahil malaking bagay na may pabakuna si Presidente at yung mga opisyal natin, malaking bagay 'yun to bring confidence to the people," said Ortiz-Luis.

[Translation: It is a big thing that our President and officials have a vaccination drive, which increases the people's confidence to get inoculated.]

Ortiz-Luis, however, appealed to the national government to add more vaccination sites as more COVID-19 vaccines arrive in the country. This is to prevent virus transmission and entice more people to get vaccinated.

He noted that unless care is taken and the system put in order, COVID-19 vaccination activities can become super-spreader events. If the schedule for inoculation is not clear, people will go in droves to vaccination centers, increasing the risk of virus transmission even if there is enough physical distancing of chairs at the site, he added.

The Philippines has received a total of 7.7 million doses of Pfizer, Sinovac, AstraZeneca, and Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccines. Since the vaccination drive rolled out in March, only 719,602 have completed their doses, while 2.28 million have received their first doses.