Galvez blames ‘Odette,’ election fever, communists for ‘slow’ vax program

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. enumerated on Saturday night, Jan. 22, at least three reasons why the vaccination program against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) slowed down in the past few weeks.

Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr. (File photo)

Galvez said the destruction brought by typhoon “Odette,” the local chief executives’ (LCEs) shift of priority to election campaign, and the lingering threat of the communist rebels all contributed to the laggy phase of the ongoing vaccination program in the early part of January.

This was Galvez’ response to a recent report released by the World Bank that the Philippines’ vaccination program “continued to lag regional peers” in the Asia Pacific, with only 54 percent of its population fully vaccinated as of January 13. This is lower compared to China’s 90 percent; Singapore’s 89 percent; Australia, Japan, and Vietnam’s 80 percent; Malaysia and Taiwan’s 79 percent; New Zealand’s 78 percent; Thailand’s 73 percent; Hong Kong’s 67 percent; India’s 65 percent; and Indonesia’s 63 percent.

“In November of last year, we were able to reach and sustain our target of administering more than a million vaccine doses daily, which continued until December through the unwavering support coming from our private sector partners and local government units throughout the country.... However, several external factors have limited our ability to maximize such partnerships, and consequently, slowed down our vaccination efforts,” Galvez admitted.

“Among these factors was the onslaught of typhoon Odette in December, whose impact in major areas across the Visayas and Mindanao are still being felt and being addressed by the government to this day,” he continued.

Typhoon Odette struck six regions in Visayas and Mindanao, all of which were in the process of ramping up their vaccination throughput when the calamity occurred on December 16, 2021.

As a result, local government units (LGUs) were forced to temporarily suspend their vaccination rollout in order to respond to the immediate needs of their constituents such as food, medicine, and shelters, Galvez explained.

“Moreover, the upcoming elections are also diverting the attention of some of our local chief executives from the efficient implementation of their vaccination drive, which we believe is the more important task at hand,” the vaccine czar added. The national and local elections will be held on May 9.

Galvez hopes that local leaders “will have the will to temporarily set aside their personal interests and first ensure the health and protection of their constituents,” especially as the country is in the middle of a surge.

“Likewise, our LGUs whose localities are situated in Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas (GIDAs) must also contend with the constant threat of the Communist Terrorist Group,” said Galvez, a former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff.

Communist-terrorist groups or CTGs refer to rebels who continue to wage an insurgency war against the government. It is being led by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed and political wings, the New People’s Army (NPA) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

“The CTG has been a major cause of concern among our LGUs whose inoculation efforts have been largely affected whenever there is an attack on communities,” Galvez stated.

Galvez also pointed out that the factors which affect a nation’s vaccination program “vary from country to country.”

He said many neighboring countries do not share the same challenges that the Philippines have such as its unique geographical landscape being an archipelago of around 7,640 islands.

He said this makes the delivery of the vaccines to far-flung communities “a major logistical challenge.”

Despite these setbacks, Galvez insisted that the government “remains committed, more than ever, to vaccinate all qualified Filipinos against COVID-19 amidst the challenges we continue to face.”

“The strategies it has implemented since March 2021 to carry out this massive and unprecedented vaccination rollout have proven to be effective not only in scaling up the vaccination capacities of our local government units, but also in increasing vaccine acceptance among our countrymen,” he said.

“We are confident that we will be able to achieve our goal of fully inoculating 77 million Filipinos within this quarter and administer booster shots to more than 72 million of our countrymen," he concluded.

As of Jan. 22, the government has fully vaccinated 57,190,586 individuals while 59,753,572 have received their first dose. Moreover, a total of 6,155,559 have obtained their booster shots.