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Groups slam ‘VIP’ treatment after Cabinet officials, soldiers get COVID-19 vaccine

Several groups slammed the "VIP vaccination" after Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año confirmed on Monday, December 28, that several Cabinet members and soldiers were given an unregistered COVID-19 vaccine.

Groups especially urged the Philippine Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health to “uphold the rule of law," hold those who are involved accountable, and prioritize frontliners in vaccinations.

The UP Pharmaceutical Association Student Council (UPPhASC) said the government has, once again, prioritized the military over healthcare workers who are risking their lives to contain the pandemic.

They asserted how this was seen when soldiers were vaccinated first, despite the troops being fifth in line to receive the vaccines, according to the vaccination road map laid by the vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr.

"The bypassing of the required technical evaluation from the FDA and prioritization of the military is a slap in the face to the thousands of medical frontliners sacrificing their lives in an underfunded healthcare sector without any adequate support from the government," the UPPhASC said in a statement.

UPPhASC also emphasized that although those who are inoculated with the unauthorized vaccine will not be held liable, the usage and smuggling of unregistered drugs is still a violation and might affect public confidence in the country's health institutions.

Not even the director general of the country’s Food and Drug Administration was aware of the early inoculation activities of the soldiers and top officials of the Duterte government.

This is especially concerning as the vaccination had taken place despite the absence of an approved or registered vaccine against the disease in the country. 

“Public confidence is and will always be critical in ensuring the success of our vaccination efforts…We cannot afford to erode the trust the public has placed in our institutions,” UPPhASC added.

The UP College of Education Student Council (UPCESC) said the early vaccination of Cabinet officials and soldiers is a manifestation of how "self-serving" the current administration is, as it has made the vaccines available only to the "government, elites, and cronies."

"This proves that the Duterte administration can easily and blatantly violate the law, disregard the public’s welfare, and even endanger the lives of the Filipinos. This is an outright betrayal of public trust," the UPCESC stressed in their statement.

Alay Sining Fine Arts lamented how other countries have already provided free vaccines for its people, yet the Philippines still has no vaccine has been registered for use against COVID-19.

"Higit pa roon, ginagawang priyoridad ang pangunahing security group ng presidente at ng ilang cabinet secretaries na mabakunahan kusang medikal at health workers na mas naghihirap dahil sa pagpabaya ng gobyerno sa kanila," they said.

(More than that, government has prioritized the vaccination of the security group of the President and other Cabinet secretaries over medical and health workers who are struggling because of the government's neglect.)

Health group Coalition for People’s Right to Health (CPRH) urged health workers and advocates to “stand for people’s right to health."

"We owe it to our patients and future generations to build a better, responsive health care system that values health as a right, and never as a privilege or commodity," the coalition said.

The group also slammed officials who condoned the early vaccination.

Malacañang had earlier defended the unauthorized vaccination and urged the public to just “accept” that uniformed personnel were among those already inoculated against the disease.

"Even if these vaccines were somehow donated to these government officials, ethics and FDA policies should have prevented this affront to our institutional integrity," CPRH said.

"By condoning the illegal vaccination, not only was the health of the vaccinated put at risk, but the entire vaccination effort itself has been undermined by vested interests. Once again, the people’s health is sacrificed for the convenience and privilege of a few," the group added.

The CPRH also warns the public to stay vigilant regarding the politicization of health processes, especially now that the 2022 elections are approaching. 

Here's what other groups said about the matter: