Surigao del Norte 2nd district Rep. Robert Ace Barbers favors the proposed procurement of anti-COVID vaccines at the local government unit (LGU)-level, but insists that the acquired vaccines be used only on frontline healthcare workers.
“There seems to be a race now among LGUs to secure their own supply of anti-COVID vaccines. The LGUs, particularly in the NCR (National Capital Region), are setting aside a huge chunk of their local budgets for this purpose,” Barbers said Wednesday.
“If that’s the case then we should allow them to do so, but I believe it is important that the vaccines procured by LGUs should only be used to inoculate frontline healthworkers only as a matter of policy,” said the chairman of the Committee on Dangerous Drugs.
Barber’s main reason? He wants to avoid the risk of the all-important vaccines becoming a political tool.
“As we all know, the next 2022 elections are fast approaching and we wouldn’t want the vaccines to become a political issue wherein certain barangays or districts would be prioritized under the city-sponsored vaccination,” he said.
“There are LGUs that should be watched and monitored closely in the purchase of these vaccines because this process is prone to kickbacks and ‘tong-pats (price-padding),'” Barbers claimed. He did not name any LGU in particular.
“Prudence and fairness also dictate that frontline healthworkers should get first dibs on the vaccine since they’ve sacrificed much and a lot of them have even perished since the pandemic began last year,” he pointed out.
Deputy Speaker and Cagayan de Oro 2nd district Rep. Rufus Rodriguez noted Tuesday that over 30 provinces and cities have already allocated funds for anti-COVID shots to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with the cities of Makati, Quezon City, and Taguig setting aside P1 billion each from their local budgets.
He said that even small provinces like Biliran and Eastern Samar have set aside P100 million and P500 million, respectively, for the purchase of vaccines abroad.
Under the existing procedure, it is the national agencies like the FDA and Department of Health (DoH) that have jurisdiction over the procurement of vaccines. But this hasn’t stopped LGUs from negotiating with vaccine producers.
“I also agree with the proposal to let private companies procure vaccines for their employees since this will ultimately contribute to healing our ailing economy,” Barbers added.
Earlier, Deputy Speaker and Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali “Boyet” Gonzales II urged the DoH to launch a massive educational campaign on the COVID-19 vaccines while the country is waiting for the antigen to arrive.
“All the billions of pesos appropriated by the government will simply go to waste if a substantial number of the people targeted by the vaccination program of the government will just refuse to be vaccinated, out of fear borne out of lack of information and understanding of the advantages of having it,” he said.
Gonzales said he was surprised to learn from a local online survey that at least 70 percent out of the 1,100 respondents were against having themselves vaccinated due to safety concerns and basic lack of knowledge.
“Thus, as of now, a massive information drive should really be fast-tracked on the ground level, so that the government’s national vaccination program will fully be successful,” he stressed.