Despite his willingness to get the Sinovac-made CoronaVac vaccine shot, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Tuesday explained why only four ranking government officials were allowed to get the jab along with frontline medical workers.
In a Palace press briefing, Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte specifically directed Vaccine Czar Carlito Galvez Jr. and Testing Czar Vince Dizon to subject themselves to inoculation since they are among the faces of the government’s national Covid-19 vaccination program.
“Ayaw pa po sana pero talagang si Presidente po nagsabi, at least ang dalawang ito kinakailangan mabakunahan dahil (They didn’t want to go first but the President really said that at least these two need to get vaccinated because) of course we need to walk the talk,” Roque said.
At the start of the vaccination program on Monday, Galvez got inoculated at the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) in Manila while Dizon received a vaccine shot at the Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and Sanitarium in Caloocan City.
Besides Galvez and Dizon, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Director General Dr. Eric Domingo and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chief Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr. also got administered with CoronaVac.
Domingo and Abalos were also vaccinated at the UP-PGH along with frontline medical workers.
“Dahil si Director Domingo siya’y nag-approve again yung epekto po ng pagbabakuna niya inaasahan natin magbu-boost po ‘yan ng kumpiyansa dahil hindi naman siya mag-a-approve ng hindi niya gagamitin sa kanyang pagkatao. At siyempre si Mayor Abalos, that’s representative po for all our mayors na handa na rin magpabakuna (Director Domingo approved the vaccine so the effect of his getting vaccinated is expected to boost confidence because he won’t approve a vaccine he won’t use. And of course, Mayor Abalos, that’s representative for all our mayors who are ready to get vaccinated),” he said.
Roque said while he also wanted to get vaccinated, the interim National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (iNITAG) discouraged him from doing so.
Medical front-liners first
Roque explained that the iNITAG, which drafted the Covid-19 vaccination priority list, discouraged him and some 50 “influencers” from getting the Sinovac vaccine before healthcare workers.
He did not name the influencers but noted that they were mostly ranking government officials including himself, lawmakers, media personalities, and movie personalities.
Roque said he and other members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) proposed a list of 50 influencers to get vaccinated to boost public confidence in vaccines. However, the iNITAG rejected their proposal.
“Gusto ko talaga magpabakuna, kaya lang po meron tayong tinatawag na iNITAG at tatapatin ko po kayo kami po sa IATF ay nag-propose ng mga singkuwenta na mga bakuna ireserba para sa tinatawag nating influencers nang mapainting natin ang ating vaccine confidence. Hindi po sumang-ayon ang iNITAG. Ako po’y sumusunod naman (I really wanted to get vaccinated, but we have what we call the iNITAG and I will be honest, us at the IATF, we proposed to reserve 50 vaccine doses for influencers to boost vaccine confidence but the iNITAG did not agree),” he said.
He said while some vaccinators at the UP-PGH, where the vaccination drive officially commenced, offered to reserve a dose for him, he eventually opted to stick to the priority list.
“Bagamat kahapon nagmabuting loob ang PGH ‘kung gusto mo, bibigay na namin sayo.’ At naghanda na po ako. Kaya lang news came to me na talagang matindi yung pagtutol ng iNITAG na magpaturok ang hindi mga medical front-liners so to avoid controversy hindi na po ako nagtuloy (The PGH offered to give me a shot. I prepared for it. But news came to me that the iNITAG was against allowing non-medical front-liners to get vaccinated so to avoid controversy, I didn’t get inoculated,” he added.
Roque also noted that the UP-PGH actually ran out of vaccine doses since only around 60-70 individuals had confirmed to subject themselves to vaccination, but 128 people showed up.
“Ang totoo naman po naubusan sila kahapon kasi akala nga nila 60 lang, 128 ang nagpabakuna (The truth is they ran out of vaccine doses yesterday because they prepared for 60 people but 128 got vaccinated),” he said.
Roque said there are a total of 3.4 million frontline healthcare workers who need to be prioritized for vaccination.
He, however, assured that he would get vaccinated as soon as he would be given the go signal from iNITAG.
On Sunday, the Philippines received the initial 600,000 doses of Sinovac-made CoronaVac vaccines donated by China in a simple turnover ceremony led by President Rodrigo Duterte.
More vaccine doses from other drugmakers are expected to arrive in the country this month.