Duterte willing to get COVID-19 vaccine first once emergency use approved

Malacañang said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is willing to go first in line for a COVID-19 vaccine once it is approved for domestic use by the country's Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in order to convince more Filipinos to get immunized.

"Kung papayagan na po ng FDA, I think po mauuna ang Presidente and nag-volunteer naman po siya. In fact, gustong-gusto na niya," said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Monday, December 7, during a press briefing.

(If the FDA will approve, I think the President would go first and he already volunteered. In fact, he really wants it.)

Roque called Duterte the "best communication tool" to convince more Filipinos to get vaccinated against COVID-19, amid fears of vaccination programs that grew partly because of the Dengvaxia controversy in 2017.

"Ang Presidente po, naku, hindi na makahintay. Gusto niyang talagang turukan na siya na mapakita sa buong bayan na ligtas at epektibo, ito po’y dumaan sa expert panel group ng pinakadalubhasang Pilipino," said the spokesman.

(The President can't wait. He really wants to get vaccinated to show the country that it is safe and effective, it went through a panel composed of Filipino experts.)

In August, Duterte said he was willing to get vaccinated, in public, against SARS-CoV-2 using the Russian-developed Sputnik V.

The FDA has yet to issue Emergency Use Approval (EUA) for any COVID-19 vaccine. But its director general, Eric Domingo, said the process could be as fast as 21 days once a vaccine manufacturer gets an EUA from its home country and submits complete data to the Philippine government.

Domingo's best-case scenario would be a Philippine EUA in January, which could mean distribution starting in March given the capacity of vaccine manufacturers to churn out doses for all the countries which reserved supply.

In the meantime, the national coronavirus task force has determined the 25 million Filipinos who will get vaccinated first. The list is led by medical frontliners and indigent senior citizens.

'VIP treatment'

Roque said the Palace "welcomes" the willingness of any other public official to get vaccinated upon issuance of an EUA. But the spokesman also expects criticism should government leaders get access to the vaccines first.

"It's a personal decision of our leaders but if that happens, the government will again be accused of prioritizing VIPs like what happened with the PCR test," said the Duterte spokesman.

Back in March, the early days of the pandemic, the Department of Health was criticized for supposedly prioritizing the early release of COVID-19 test results of senators, their spouses, celebrities, and other VIPs.

The hashtag #NoToVIPTesting trended on Twitter amid the scramble for very limited RT-PCR test kits. Because of the scarcity of testing resources, ordinary citizens had to wait a week or more to get tested. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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