I applaud the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to allow the private sector to import COVID-19 vaccines “at-will”. “No matter the price or how many they want to import, that is fine with me,” the President was quoted as saying by several media reports.
Private procurement of vaccines will, of course, continue to be governed by the provisions of the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021 which only allows the private sector to acquire vaccines through a multiparty agreement with government and vaccine manufacturers. This provision is understandable given the strong public interest in the vaccination program and because it is the government that would pay indemnity in case of adverse effects as a condition of vaccine procurement.
But the President’s pronouncement can potentially fast-track the purchase of vaccines which will lead to an increase in the pace of the country’s inoculation program. Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. has noted that President Duterte instructed him to sign “any and all documents that would allow the private sector to import at will.” Galvez added that vaccines bought by businesses will be tax-free and cleared faster by the customs agency. The President explained that he was liberalizing vaccine procurement so that “business people can give these vaccines to their employees so that the economy will be opened.”
This is a game-changer. If the President’s wishes will be implemented faithfully then we will have a better chance at defeating the COVID-19 pandemic. This will depend on a host of other factors primary among them is the supply of vaccines. So far, the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has skewed in favor of rich countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) has lamented the fact that “87 percent of the 700 million vaccine doses that have been distributed across the globe have gone to high-income or upper- and middle-income countries, while low-income countries have received just 0.2 percent.”
Developed countries have stockpiles of vaccines while most poor countries are struggling with dwindling supplies and unfortunately recent surges of COVID-19 infections. Rich countries should realize that this is a global problem. This means that even if they inoculate 100 percent of their population if the rest of the world is still infected then global recovery will still be hampered. Countries need to get together and come up with a strategy that is sensible and equitable.
But this global supply problem notwithstanding, at the very least the President has set the tone that would allow the private sector to procure vaccines more easily. The logic is really simple. Private companies have the resources, the efficiency, and the motivation to make sure that their employees are vaccinated. This means that workers at the mall or grocery store, construction workers, delivery riders, office workers, and other private-sector workers will be protected from the coronavirus. They are – and I have stressed this so many times before – the brave front liners of our economy. Together with the inoculation drives of local government units, we can ensure that both the workplace and our home and community are safe from the fatal disease that has destroyed lives and our economy.
This is a critical step in our desire to open up the economy and defeat this COVID menace. We cannot remain ensnared in this vicious cycle of surges and lockdowns. We need to ensure the protection of our citizens from the coronavirus by vaccinating them. The increasing number of infected Filipinos is frightening. We are shocked daily, every 4 p.m. when the Department of Health releases new COVID-19 numbers. This cannot be our daily routine. Stories of patients unable to get inside hospitals to get treatment are heartbreaking. Equally heart-rending are images of jeepney drivers roaming the streets for alms; or, mothers unable to feed their children because their workplace has closed.
The private sector is more than willing to work together with the government and our people to make sure that we can vaccinate as many people, as fast as possible. So that we can open our economy and help as many people, as fast as possible.