By Corina Oliquino

MANILA —  The Coalition for People’s Right to Health (CPRH) expressed fear about the lack of a “fully fleshed-out plan (or) any actually approved or available vaccine in the country.”

This followed President Rodrigo Duterte’s approval of a tripartite agreement among LGUs, the national government and pharmaceutical firms for the vaccine procurement to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“As we have said, talagang pangako po ng Pangulo na babakunahan po natin ang ating mga kababayan with a safe, effective and free vaccine,” National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said during the January 7, Laging Handa briefing, noting the government is on the advance stages of negotiations with Novavax, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson (Janssen), Sinovac and Gamaleya and hopes to close deals this month.

Galvez also noted that the Philippines will receive vaccine doses for 23 million Filipinos through the Gavi COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access or COVAX facility.

“This is a global initiative aimed at working with vaccine manufacturers to provide countries worldwide with equitable access to safe and effective vaccines,” he said, noting the government will also be able to purchase 148 million doses from seven manufacturers based on ongoing negotiations.

Meanwhile, the CPRH in a statement published early Thursday morning on its Facebook page has urged the DOH to assert its mandate as the health authority during a public health crisis.

“The long-awaited Administrative Order regarding vaccine rollout must be presented and communicated to the public as soon as possible, in order to curb further doubts on the DOH’s ability to fulfill its responsibilities. Allowing unbridled parallel procurement of LGUs and the private sector risks undermining not just the institutional integrity of the top health agency but also the prioritization scheme itself. The established list will be rendered useless if, in the long run, others will be vaccinated first before the more vulnerable individuals,” the coalition said, also urging the DOH and IATF to “expand the target of vaccinating just 25 million prioritized individuals for 2021 to at least 60 percent of the population or 66 million people.

“DOH should take the lead in its position within the IATF to rein in the LGU and private sector responses to be in line with national goals for both prioritization and the larger aim of herd immunity. It must consider the growing national debt, which is already beyond half of the country’s gross domestic product, in its further procurement of additional vaccine doses, balancing it with the LGU’s willingness to spend from its IRA, while also not relying on the private sector for what must be a public responsibility for public health,” it added.

In a report by The Philippine Star, CPRH previously criticized the Presidential Security Group (PSG) for its “blatant disregard of existing laws and processes which the group said bypassed health workers and mocked the regulatory processes in place to ensure the safety of those inoculated.”

Earlier, PSG admitted to making use of a smuggled and unapproved COVID-19 vaccine ahead of those in the “priority list.”

Malacañang has already asked the public to “move on” from the issue.

“While LGUs have the legal authority to ensure its citizens’ health and seek the means to do so, the CPRH is deeply concerned with this development. The history of devolution of health services is riddled with inequality and politicization of essential services,” the coalition said.

“The Coalition is cognizant that national elections are soon coming in 2022 and fears the further politicization of health services, persistently seen prior to and even during this pandemic,” it added.

As of  January 11, the Philippines has 489,736 total COVID-19 cases after the DOH logs 2,052 additional infections, 10 new recoveries and 11 new deaths.

“It is first and foremost the state’s responsibility to provide for the people’s health. But given chronic underfunding and neglect, the Philippine government needs to adequately fund health, science and technology as the new normal. We cannot and must not place our hopes on charity or corporate social responsibility for a strong and functional health system,” CPRH said.

In another report by The Philippine Star, during a Senate hearing on January 11 regarding the government’s vaccination plan, Galvez told Sen. Panfilo Lacson the first COVID-19 vaccination will happen in the third or fourth week of February.

Galvez noted that the initial doses will come from the COVAX facility.