Recto urges Palace to name COVID-19 vaccine czar

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto urged Malacañang to appoint a “vaccine czar,” or an official who can solve the challenges of getting the COVID-19 vaccine to the country and ensure Filipinos will have access to it alongside citizens of other countries.

“Naming the vaccine czar this early will also jumpstart the setting up of a ‘supply-to-syringe cold chain’ as the vaccines have to be moved and stored in freezing temperatures in a tropical country that lacks infrastructure for it,” Recto said in a press statement on Saturday, October 24.

So far, there are at least 48 COVID-19 vaccines undergoing clinical trials on humans and 89 preclinical vaccines under active investigation in animals according to the New York Times.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also said in August that 172 countries are participating in the COVAX initiative, a global collaboration for speeding up the development, manufacture, and distribution of new vaccines. The Philippines is part of this initiative.

However, Recto noted that the goal of COVAX is to deliver only 2 billion doses of vaccines by the end of 2021.

As of mid-2020, there are an estimated 109.6 million Filipinos.

Ilan ang matitira para sa mga Pilipino? (How many would be left for the Filipinos?) Countries who have sunk billions into their development have firm orders so they are first in line. Pang-ilan tayo sa mahabang linya? (Where are we in the long list of countries?)” Recto said. 

Aside from access, Recto also enumerated other issues that the vaccine would tackle. These include the selection process and prioritization, logistics, infrastructure for local production, and delivery.

The Department of Health (DOH) earlier admitted that it was short of around P10 billion to procure enough doses for the identified priority groups.

“We need a Filipino with global stature, excellent connections and diplomatic skills to successfully place the orders and outsmart the competition,” Recto said. “Bawal ang OJT dito (OJT [on-the-job training] is not allowed here).”

The Duterte administration has named other czars to combat COVID-19.

Among them were BCDA chief Vince Dizon as testing czar, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar as isolation czar, Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong as contact tracing czar, Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega as treatment czar.

The government also allotted a budget of P2.5 billion for COVID-19 vaccines in the 2021 General Appropriations Bill, which was passed on 3rd and final reading on October 16 in the House of Representatives. But the House plans to increase this, with Speaker Lord Allan Velasco saying that the current budget would only cover around 3 million people. –

Pauline Macaraeg

Pauline Macaraeg is part of the Rappler Research Team’s fact-checking unit. Aside from debunking dubious claims, she also enjoys crunching data and writing stories about the economy, environment, and media democracy.