Protecting economic frontliners

Protecting economic frontliners

As of yesterday, the government had dropped a controversial item in the draft implementing rules and regulations for the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021 or Republic Act 11525. The IRR provision aimed to bar manufacturers of infant milk formula, sugary drinks as well as so-called sin products such as cigarettes and alcoholic beverages from procuring vaccines for their workers.

At least one senator described the proposal as “discriminatory” and “morally unacceptable.” For the private business sector, however, the problem is wider: they are all required to include the government in all their vaccine procurement deals, aside from donating half of all the jabs obtained to the government.

Administration officials explain that the government has a role in covering indemnification, as demanded by vaccine manufacturers, in case of adverse reactions to the shots. Tax-free importation also justifies the 50 percent compulsory donation, according to the government. Some private businessmen who want to procure vaccines directly for their workers were told that emergency use authorization for the jabs does not extend to commercial use. The businessmen have stressed that they don’t intend to sell the vaccines so there is no commerce involved, and the jabs are for their workers.

Among those appealing for government approval for private sector procurement are the country’s largest business group, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which asked for the green light to bring in Covaxin shots made by India’s Bharat Biotech; the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, and the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. ECOP has noted that the government is slowed down in getting vaccines by down payment requirements – something that the private sector can do quickly without worrying about violating procurement laws.

The businesses of the members of these groups run the gamut of economic activities. The bulk of the vaccines will go to their employees in the lower corporate rungs: factory employees, skilled workers, company drivers and delivery teams, cooks and food servers, salesclerks, cleaning staff, cashiers. They are economic frontliners – people who deal directly with consumers and clients and produce basic goods. Their vaccination would vastly improve consumer confidence and boost spending for both necessities and leisure.

In the order of vaccination priorities, many of them will in fact be high on the list, because of their low-income status. In this aspect, if the private sector can obtain vaccines faster, the government should facilitate it rather than set up roadblocks.