Simultaneous jabs for health workers, elderly, economic frontliners eyed

The Philippines' pandemic task force is considering the simultaneous vaccinations of health workers, elderly, and economic frontliners with the help of local governments and the private sector.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr explained this proposal to President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night, March 22, during a meeting at the Malacañang Golf Clubhouse.

In the government's current vaccination program, jabs for health workers must be completed before moving on to the second priority sector, the elderly. But Galvez said that other countries, like the United States and Indonesia, have chosen to vaccinate other sectors alongside health workers, realizing that other members of the population urgently need protection.

"Dapat po talaga simultaneous po nating ginagawa (We should really be doing this simultaneously. We are targeting A1 to A3 and A4 at the same time," Galvez told the President.

A1 refers to healthcare workers and medical frontliners, A2 are the elderly or persons aged 60 years-old and above, A3 are persons with comorbidities, while A4 pertains to frontline personnel in essential sectors and uniformed personnel. (READ: Gov't releases new vaccine priority list, includes persons with comorbidities)

Private sector, LGU help needed

Simultaneous vaccinations of these 4 sectors are also expected to improve the country's rate of vaccinations and cover most of the population faster. The proposal is being considered as business leaders expressed frustration over the slow vaccine rollout.

Nearly a month after the country's first COVID-19 vaccines arrives, the government has vaccinated only 21.7% of 1.7 million healthcare workers or not even 1% of the country's population. In the meantime, COVID-19 cases have been soaring to new record highs, the latest on Monday, when the Philippines recorded 8,019 cases in a single day.

To speed up the vaccine rollout, private companies and local governments (LGUs) should be allowed to vaccinate their employees and frontliners alongside the national government's own inoculation drive.

"National government and the LGU may target at the
same time the A1 to A3 (healthcare workers, elderly, persons with comorbidities) while the private sector can do also their
inoculation, with the supervision of DOH (Department of Health) and the LGU, targeting the A4, meaning the [essential] frontliners and economic frontliners," said Galvez.

Simultaneous rollout timeline

In an "illustrative" vaccine deployment plan for simultaneous jabs presented by Galvez, the government targets to complete vaccinations of health workers in May.

But vaccinations of the country's estimated 9.5 million seniors could begin as early as April (15%).

Then in May, the government could also start vaccinating persons with comorbidities, estimated to number 5 million in total.

In the same month, private companies that purchased vaccines through tripartite agreements with the government and vaccine makers could begin inoculating their frontline workers.

Galvez's chart even states that the private firms can already vaccinate half of their identified frontliner workers, numbering 2.2 million in total.

Meanwhile, the national government and local governments could begin vaccinating their essential non-medical frontliners in June.

It is not yet clear if Duterte has approved the proposal for simultaneous vaccinations. Galvez said he is still pitching the idea to the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG). – 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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