This website requires JavaScript.

‘More Vaccines, But Not Enough Takers’

‘More Vaccines, But Not Enough Takers’
A Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine against COVID-19 is prepared during an inoculation program for A1 to A3 categories at a mega vaccination site near Mandaluyong City Hall on May 18, 2021. Photo by Michael Varcas, The Philippine STAR

The National Task Force against COVID-19 urged local governments, police and military to “get creative” in solving vaccine hesitancy among Filipinos, amid what the NTF described as an influx of large COVID-19 vaccine shipments that isn’t matched by sufficient demand.

NTF policy chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr., the government’s vaccine czar, said on Sunday, Oct. 10,the country no longer has a COVID-19 vaccine supply problem and that the goal for herd immunity before yearend has now hit a snag of hesitancy and weak demand.

While the country has received more than 85.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines since February, the NTF said only 49 million doses have been administered and only 23 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated – representing only 21% of the population.

There are currently more than 36 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in national warehouses, which are scheduled for deployment across the country.

“The challenge now is throughput, administration and demand. That’s why we’re calling on all local government units (LGUs), including the Department of the Interior and Local Government, mayors, governors, military and police to make vaccination efficient,” Galvez said during the arrival of more than 1.3 million doses of the Moderna vaccine on Saturday, Oct. 9.

He said the task requires LGUs and agencies to be “creative” and think of ways to scale up demand and get more Filipinos vaccinated.

Galvez added mayors and governors must initiate partnerships with agencies and the private sector to inoculate more of their constituents. He urged local leaders and regional directors to “set aside political differences and focus on our efforts to inoculate as many people as possible.”

“If they need vehicles to transport people or healthcare workers to vaccination sites, they can request and tap the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” he stressed. “They may also partner with the private sector or other sectors to make things happen because our collective vision here is for us to reopen and recover our economy and safely exit the pandemic.”

Galvez however expressed optimism that with the current vaccine supply, confirmed deliveries and vaccine rollout of LGUs, the country will be able to achieve its goal of fully vaccinating 50 to 70% of the country’s target population by yearend.

The government has started to expand the vaccine priority list, with children aged 12 to 17 set to get vaccinated against COVID-19 this month. The pilot vaccination of the target age group starts on Oct. 15 in different Metro Manila hospitals, and would be expanded to other regions of the country, the NTF earlier said.

Raffle prizes not the answer

Meanwhile, an administration lawmaker said it would be better if the Department of Health would offer incentives for workers who stand to lose their day’s pay in lining up for vaccination at LGUs, because raffle prizes will not solve the problem.

“The problem is not the lack of some probability of winning a big prize. The problem is for many, they have to skip a workday just to get jabbed. For the average wage worker, that will cost them the day’s pay,” Albay Rep. Joey Salceda pointed out.

According to the chairman of the ways and means committee of the House of Representatives, a “vaccination allowance and better registration procedures” will definitely “encourage more Filipinos to get vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccines.”

“Earlier this year, I already proposed that we give a day’s worth of minimum wage as a vaccine incentive. There are places where that’s being done already, like Davao City,” Salceda added.

“The point is, you compensate for the trouble. Even with a raffle, for many working class Filipinos, foregoing a day’s wages is too much,” he explained further.

Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas, in the meantime, has filed a bill providing additional allowances and benefits for healthcare workers during the pandemic.

Among other key provisions, House Bill  No. 10331 or the Allowances and Benefits for Health Care Workers Act, provides “just compensation” of P1 million in cases of a healthcare worker’s death due to COVID-19 in the line of duty.

The bill also sets additional benefits of P100,000 in cases of severe COVID-19 sickness, and P15,000 in cases of mild or moderate COVID-19 infection.

“Amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, HCWs have been at the vanguard of protecting the health and welfare of the general public as they risk their lives to serve and provide care, especially for COVID-19 infected patients,” Vargas said in the bill’s explanatory note.

He said while added benefits are already provided by law, there is a need “to augment and strengthen these efforts and to properly recognize and compensate our heroes.”

“It is imperative to increase the benefits and allowances that our healthcare workers receive during this public health crisis,” Vargas added.

The Vargas bill also sets a fixed monthly COVID-19 Special Risk Allowance for every month served during the state of national emergency, in addition to the hazard pay granted under the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers (Republic Act No. 7305).

The bill also gives healthcare workers a monthly Active Hazard Duty Pay, and in case of exposure to COVID-19 or any work-related injury or disease, full coverage for all medical expenses by the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

The bill also extends life insurance, accommodation, transportation and meals – or their cash equivalent – to health workers on active duty during the pandemic.

The benefits under the Vargas bill “shall have retroactive application from July 1, 2021, and shall be exempt from income tax.”

The added allowances and benefits cover all healthcare workers “who are engaged in health and health related work in health facilities during the state of public health emergency due to the COVID- 19 pandemic.”