Some local government units (LGUs), especially in Metro Manila, are scrambling to purchase Covid-19 vaccines for their constituents. Reports said that some LGUs are directly negotiating and, in fact, have already signed contracts with various vaccine manufacturers abroad. In Cebu City, detractors of Mayor Edgardo Labella lambasted him on social media for not acting with dispatch for the immediate purchase of the vaccines. They again criticized the mayor for his “inaction,” and that we have been overtaken by the LGUs of Bacolod, Iloilo and Ormoc.
The mayor created a Vaccine Board to study every angle of the purchase. The board is expected to come up with recommendations. The mayor said he will just “take a cue from the national government.” The City Council appropriated P400 million for vaccine purchase, but it can pass a supplemental budget in case of a shortage. The national government, through vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez, assured Labella that Cebu City is included in the priority list for the vaccination program considering that we are a highly urbanized city and had posted high positive cases in the past.
Gov. Gwen Garcia is not so keen on the move to purchase vaccines for the Province’s constituents. In fact, the Provincial Board has not yet appropriated funds for the purpose. “Why in a hurry? This is not a race,” the governor was quoted as saying. Like Labella, Garcia will just take the cue from the national government.
I agree with Gwen. While it is true that time is of the essence and that we need to be vaccinated as early as possible, but the hands of our LGUs are tied by policies of the national government. LGUs are under the mercy of the national government, which is the main procurer. This is not a case of buying a vinegar in a sari-sari store. Our LGUs have to be prudent in their move so as not to waste taxpayers’ money. The LGUs’ purchase is just to augment and complement the procurement made by the national government since not all LGUs can avail themselves of the free vaccination program.
In a recent joint statement, it said: ‘The Department of Health (DOH), the National Task Force Against Covid-19 (NTF) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) appreciate the Covid-19 vaccine initiatives of LGUs. However, as mentioned by vaccine czar Galvez, LGUs cannot procure and roll out Covid-19 vaccines on their own. This must be coordinated with the national government through the NTF and DOH in a tripartite agreement involving local governments and pharmaceutical companies. This is meant to align the efforts of LGUs with the vaccine initiative of the national government, which integrates and consolidates all resources and initiatives.”
“The FDA also clarifies that the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) issued by the government does not cover the commercial use of the vaccines. This means that manufacturers cannot sell directly to the LGUs or to any entity, unless they are under the vaccine initiative of the national government. Further, the DOH recognizes the equity issues raised on the distribution of the vaccine. We assured the public that the national government adheres to the principle of equity where delivery of services are biased towards the vulnerable and the disadvantaged.”
So, you see, the LGUs cannot act alone. The President reminded the LGUs that the Covid-19 vaccine that they have chosen to procure should already be approved for use by the government. He said he would not interfere should LGUs get vaccines different from what the national government procured, although he clarified that no vaccine was better than the other.
The chief executive explained that all medicines, including vaccines, should undergo government screening to ensure that they would be safe for consumption. “I am addressing the mayors and governors. You can choose any vaccine you like to buy. We don’t care what you choose. That’s one thing. We won’t meddle in the purchase. But you know that we have a law that says all medicines of whatever nature and whatever characteristics would have to go through the scrutiny of the government,” the chief executive said.
Galvez also explained that the national government’s tripartite agreement with LGUs and vaccine manufacturers will maximize the manpower, expertise and resources to ensure a coordinated, integrated and holistic Covid-19 immunization program.
So, to all those who are eager to be vaccinated, just sit back and relax. We will be there soon. But even if we have already the vaccine, we still have a problem on how to convince those skeptics to avail themselves of the program. There are so many Doubting Thomases out there, especially the vaccine made in China. According to a recent survey, there are nearly 50 percent who are unwilling to get inoculated for Covid-19 mainly due to concerns about the safety of the vaccine. In Norway, 23 people, mostly elderly with pre-existing diseases, died after being vaccinated by a US-made vaccine.