MANILA - Medical workers and other frontliners are prioritized when government obtains a COVID-19 vaccine, a former health Secretary said Sunday.
These will include doctors, nurses, hospital workers, social workers, and policemen, among others, according to former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, who served the department in January to June 2010.
They will be followed by the vulnerable population, including the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions and with comorbidity, and finally by the general population, she said.
"Kung ang pamahalaaan ang gagastos, priority ay pinaka-exposed dun sa sakit, mauuna dyan ay healthcare workers at iba pang frontliners," she told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
(If government will pay for it, the priority are those exposed to the disease such as healthcare workers and other frontliners.)
The Philippines has initially allotted P2.4 billion for COVID-19 vaccines, the Department of Health (DOH) earlier said.
At least 3 percent of the population should be immunized for COVID-19 under the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility, Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato Dela Peña had said.
But, according to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, the Philippines has a financing plan to purchase at least 40 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines once it becomes available to be administered for free to the poorest 20 million Filipinos.
The government is currently coordinating with at least 16 COVID-19 vaccine developers, with President Rodrigo Duterte banking on Russia's vaccine.
"Ngayon, kung ikaw naman ang bibili ng bakuna, eh, walang makakapigil sa'yo na bumili ng bakuna sa sarili mo at ipa-inject mo sa sarili mo," Cabral said.
But she said Filipinos should not expect that the country will be among the first to acquire COVID-19 vaccines if, for example, they become commercially available by December.
"Hindi po tayo una sa pila. Mahaba po ang pila. Nabalitaan na ninyo, at nabilataan ko na rin na 'yung mga countries ay nag-invest na ng hundreds of millions of dollars dun sa mga developers nitong mga bakuna. At siyempre, sila 'yung prayoridad na mabibigyan ng bakuna," Cabral said.
(We are not first in line. And the line is long. You must have heard in the news, and I've also heard that many countries have invested hundreds of millions of dollars already in these vaccine developers. So, of course, they are the priority to receive the vaccine.)
"Tayo'y nandun sa bandang huli ng pila. So, kung marami ang stock, pwede tayong abutin at makabili. Pero kung kulang pa, mag-aantay tayo na magkaroon ulit," she added.
(We are among those last in line. So, if the stock is plenty, we may purchase. But if it's not enough, then we wait until the stock is replenished.)
Meanwhile, the government needs to further intensify its testing, tracing, treating and isolation of virus patients, Cabral said as she noted that COVID-19 is "clearly" still spreading in the country.
"Ginagawa natin kung ano ang dapat gawin. Kailangan nating paigtingin, palawakin at bilisan ang ating ginagawa para hindi tayo ma-overwhelm ng kaso ng COVID-19," she said.
(We are doing what we must do. But we must intensify, widen, and quicken these measures so we won't be overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases.)
Test results must be available within 24 hours for contact tracing to be effective. But lack of manpower hampers laboratories from doing so as medical technologists also contract the virus, Cabral said.
"Sa ngayon, meron tayong lag period na 1 linggo, minsan 2 linggo pa... Useless na po yang test na yan para sa contact tracing kasi, by that time, daang tao na ang nakahalubilo nung taong may COVID at parang impossible na ma-trace silang lahat," she said.
(Right now we have a lag period of 1 week, sometimes 2 weeks... The test result will be useless for contact tracing because the patient would have had contact with hundreds of people and it might me impossible to trace them.)
"Kailangan ng mahusay na organisasyon, maraming tao at determinasyon. Hindi pwedeng puro dahilan, 'kailangan pang i-validate' etc. Kailangan po nating bilisan ang trabaho natin."
(We need to have good organization, many people, and determination. Excuses such as 'we need to validate first,' are not allowed. We need to speed up the way we do our jobs.)
The Philippines as of Saturday reported 157,918 COVID-19 cases, with 72,209 recoveries and 2,600 deaths.
The country's first case, involving a Chinese woman who arrived from Wuhan City, China where the disease is believed to have first emerged, was recorded on Jan. 30.