From the start, even as COVID-19 devastated lives and livelihoods, nationwide surveys indicated strong resistance to COVID vaccination, especially if the jab was made in China. The hysteria over the anti-dengue shot Dengvaxia and the opaque development of Chinese vaccines were among the factors behind vaccine hesitancy.
When vaccines finally arrived – an initial 600,000 doses of Chinese biotech firm Sinovac’s CoronaVac donated by Beijing – top doctors in COVID referral centers helped overcome vaccine hesitancy by allowing themselves to be inoculated in public. This initial gesture of vaccine confidence was critical to the acceptance of CoronaVac by the sector at the top of the inoculation priority list: health care workers.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, testing czar Vince Dizon and Chairman Benhur Abalos Jr. of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority also got their shots in public. So there’s no need for the thousands of local government executives nationwide to jump the line on the pretext of dispelling vaccine hesitancy.
In Metro Manila, no mayor has seen the need to jump the vaccination line. But the Parañaque government is under fire for the inoculation of actor Mark Anthony Fernandez, son of former Parañaque first lady and councilor Alma Moreno and Rudy Fernandez. The city government initially explained that Mark Anthony is hypertensive and the comorbidity qualified him for the jab.
Fernandez happily posted his vaccination on social media. And who wouldn’t be thrilled? The AstraZeneca jab is one of just 525,600 precious doses received by the country under the COVAX Facility put together by the World Health Organization for developing countries. The WHO has stressed that accessing the Philippines’ 44 million doses under COVAX requires compliance with minimum conditions, one of which is adherence to the vaccination priority list, at the top of whom are health frontliners followed by senior citizens.
Nowhere are 42-year-old actors with high blood pressure listed as high priority. As it became clear that Fernandez’s supposed hypertension isn’t even a serious case, the story evolved: he was at the right place at the right time, when the last of the 10 doses in the vaccine vial had to be used ASAP.
What would now stop people claiming to have hypertension – some 21 percent of the country’s population, according to a study a decade ago – from parking themselves outside vaccination centers, waiting to be substituted for healthcare workers? And who drew up and approved the substitution list?
The country risks moving down the bottom in COVAX access – if it hasn’t already – because of people with a twisted sense of entitlement. Sadly, this is turning into the story of the Philippine vaccination campaign.