The hashtag #NotoVIPVaccination dominated online conversations on Monday and Tuesday after government officials, including President Rodrigo Duterte, disclosed that Cabinet members and personnel of the Presidential Security Group had already been vaccinated for the coronavirus.
On Tuesday, Eduardo Año, who earlier confirmed that some Cabinet members were vaccinated by COVID-19 vaccine developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) ahead of its approval from the country’s Food and Drug Administration, took back his claim and clarified that it was just one Cabinet member who received the coronavirus vaccination.
The vaccination caused online uproar as the national government earlier said that medical front liners would be the top priority recipients of the vaccination.
Concerned Filipinos revived the December 7 post of presidential Harry Roque which is an infographic of prioritization of vaccination approved by the Department of Health. They flooded it with criticisms.
The infographic showed that the first priority are the frontline health workers which include workers from public and private health facilities, public health workers and barangay health workers, among others.
Uniformed personnel only fall on the last and fifth priority.
“Anunaaaa? 5th priority pala ah,” a Facebook user commented.
“Tama naman yung priority list, una nga lang yung nasa #5,” another commented.
Some Filipinos also juxtaposed the situation against Mexico where medical frontliners got vaccinated by Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine ahead of other citizens.
— Urban Inday (@UrbanInday) December 28, 2020
To some, the vaccination of the PSG and a Cabinet official is reminiscent of the situation in March when government officials drew criticisms for also having access to COVID-19 test despite limited test kits then.
Filipinos once again questioned the Duterte administration’s priority and said the so-called “VIP vaccination” is “unfair” “unjust.”
— Tita Krissy Achino (@KrissyAchino) December 28, 2020
“This questionable access to vaccines by those in authority shows the current administration’s priorities in governance – where those in power’s interests almost always come first while the needs of the poor majority will have to take a backseat. #NoToVIPVaccination,” Karapatan’s Cristina Palabay said.
“VIP testing noon, VIP vaccination ngayon. kahit kailan, hindi naging prayoridad ng duterte admin ang kaligtasan ng mga pilipino. pabaya, pahirap, pasista, patalsikin na yan!” a Twitter user said.
VIP testing noon, VIP vaccination ngayon. kahit kailan, hindi naging prayoridad ng duterte admin ang kaligtasan ng mga pilipino. pabaya, pahirap, pasista, patalsikin na yan!#NoToVIPVaccination #VaccineForFilipinosNow https://t.co/0ttBeorBt6
— ani (ò ^ ó") (@aniluntian) December 28, 2020
“THE LAST SHALL BE FIRST, AND THE FIRST SHALL BE LAST!!!” a nurse said.
The UP Pharmaceutical Association Student Council and the organizations of the UP College of Pharmacy, likewise said they strongly denounce the VIP vaccination of cabinet member and soldier. They said this is a “slap in the face of medical workers” who were bypassed in the prioritization of vaccination.
UPPhA SC Statement on VIP Vaccination
The UP Pharmaceutical Association Student Council, together with the organizations of the UP College of Pharmacy,strongly denounce the VIP vaccination of cabinet members and soldiers ahead of any FDA approval#NoToVIPVaccination#OustDuterte pic.twitter.com/KoYg2QQycJ
— UPPhA Student Council (@upphascofficial) December 28, 2020
Social media rally
Progressive groups and human rights advocates on Monday evening launched a #NotoVIPvaccination social media rally where they aired their grievances against vaccination of government officials. They also demanded accountability from the Duterte administration.
The groups also used the hashtag #VaccineforFilipinosNow to oppose the supposed vaccination privilege.
“History is bound to repeat itself, and time and time again the Duterte regime has shown ineptitude in delivering health-based solutions to contain the pandemic. The @CEGPhils demands accountability from this incompetent regime! #NoToVIPVaccination #VaccienForFilipinosNow,” College Editors Guild of the Philippines said.
“Just as how they want to preserve social inequalities, they also want this virus to stay. This government, being self-serving more than ever, will consciously deny our HCW and vulnerable groups immediate access to efficient vaccines,” Girls for PH also said.
— League of Filipino Students (@LFSPhilippines) December 28, 2020
COVID-19 vaccine budget
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and other concerned Filipino users noted the lack of allocation for mass testing and vaccination in the 4.5 trillion budget for 2021 signed by Duterte on Monday.
“A large portion of the 4.5 trillion 2021 budget signed by Duterte today will go to debt servicing, corruption-laden infrastructure projects and military budget. No budget for mass testing, mass vaccination and slashed budget for public health care,” KMP said.
"There's no more money for vaccines", while there are budget increases for the AFP and the rabid red-tagging machine, the NTF-ELCAC.
— Carwyn | JOIN LFS #OustDuterte (@JCRWYN) December 28, 2020
The Republic Act No. 11518 or the General Appropriations Act of 2021, however, allocates P72.5 billion for the coronavirus vaccine acquisition.
The budget also aims to provide response to the pandemic and stimulate economic revival next year.
Vaccine procurement process
Meanwhile, Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo, also the director general of FDA, in an interview with Unang Hirit expressed dismay over the inculcation of unapproved vaccines of Chinese maker Sinopharm to some government officials.
“Nakakalungkot kapag nalaman mong ganitong nagtatrabaho ka tapos may ganitong mangyayari… paano kung may nakakalabas din dito tapos naibebenta…,” Domingo was quoted as saying.
“It makes you wonder, mukhang may nakakapasok na bakuna na hindi natin alam if they are handled properly, na if they are gotten from the correct source,” he added.
Vaccine firms are required to apply for emergency use in the Philippines.
Domingo earlier said the FDA would look at 2 criteria in approving the vaccine. These are safety and efficacy as well as its quality and stability.
Despite the Sinopharm vaccine being unapproved, Roque maintained that the vaccination of PSG and a Cabinet member is not illegal.
He also defended the vaccination by saying no public funds were used.
Basta ang ginamit kaban na galing sa taumbayan, susundin natin ang prayoridad na una [sa COVID-19 vaccine ang health workers],” Roque said.
“Pero ito ho, hindi po ginastusan ito ng pampublikong pondo so wala pong problema riyan,” he added.