MANILA — The COVID-19 vaccination is not yet open for everyone who wants to get a jab, Malacañang said on Thursday, as it clarified a remark by President Rodrigo Duterte, while the Philippines scrambles to protect the population from more infectious variants.
Duterte in a late-night address on Wednesday said, "Give the vaccines to those who want to be vaccinated," as he expressed concern over the contagious Delta variant that is ripping through Southeast Asia, now a global epicenter for the virus.
There is already "partial compliance" with the President's directive because the inoculation campaign has opened to essential workers, while continuing to prioritize the elderly and people with comorbities, said Palace spokesman Harry Roque.
"Siguro po, kung tatagal pa ay hindi po malayo na talagang i-o-open na natin ‘yan for all," he said in a televised public briefing.
"Pero hindi pa po sa ngayon dahil meron pa po tayong obligasyon, lalo na doon sa mga donated na bakuna, na ipa-prioritize pa rin natin ang A1, A2, A3 (health workers, senior citizens, people with health risks)," added the official.
(Perhaps it won't be long before we open that for everyone. But not for now because we have an obligation, especially with donated vaccines, to prioritize our A1, A2, and A3.)
With only 6 percent of the Philippines' 110 million people fully vaccinated against COVID-19, millions remain vulnerable to severe illness once infected. The government is aiming to fully immunize up to 70 million people before the year ends.
The country has so far reported 119 cases of the Delta variant, first detected in India, but health experts say there could be more undetected cases because of the slow pace of the country's genome sequencing capacity.
Daily reported infections have recently started to rise, and authorities over the weekend suspended travel from Malaysia and Thailand, as well as tightened curbs in and around Manila.
Duterte on Wednesday ordered village chiefs to prevent those in their communities who refuse to be vaccinated from leaving home.
"I am telling you, don't leave your homes. If you go out, I will tell the police to escort you back to your house because you are a walking spreader," Duterte said. "If you don't want to help the country by getting vaccinated, then better stay in your homes."
Authorities are "not yet" enforcing this directive, said Roque.
"I think ang iniisip ni Presidente is how to keep the economy going kung talagang kinakailangan na tayong mag-lockdown, in which case, it will not be a complete lockdown," he said.
(I think what the President was thinking is how to keep the economy going if we really need to go on lockdown, in which case, it will not be a complete lockdown.)
"Baka naman pupuwedeng payagang magtrabaho ‘yong mga bakunado. Let’s just say that as we are able to vaccinate more and more of our people, we are headed towards that direction," continued the official.
(Perhaps vaccinated people could be allowed to continue working.)
With more than 1.5 million coronavirus cases and more than 27,000 deaths, the Philippines has the second-worst outbreak in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.
— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Reuters