Malilong: Jumping the line

Frank Malilong
·3 min read

Minglanilla Mayor Elanito Peña has drawn flak for having himself injected with the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Peña’s first mistake was that he jumped the line. The second was that he advertised it on Facebook.

I’m sure that Peña (and Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez and three other mayors in Bohol) are not the only offenders. There must be hundreds of other local government unit (LGU) officials who got their arms jabbed with the vaccine that are intended for frontline health care workers but “wisely” avoided crowing about it.

Peña said he obtained early vaccination along with his town’s Covid-19 frontliners because he considered himself one of them, a conclusion that he said he arrived at after consulting with, among others, some doctors.

Romualdez, on the other hand, explained that he merely wanted to show to his people that the vaccine is safe and in the process encourage them to take it once it becomes available. The idea of a leader offering himself as some sort of a guinea pig is noble even if it is not a novel one. His excuse was definitely better than Peña’s feigned ignorance of the Department of Health (DOH) well-publicized guidelines on the vaccine’s rollout.

Those are the stated reasons. The undeclared and most likely the real one is that they wanted to secure protection from the virus as early as they could. I do not know if there are sanctions for violating the DOH order of prioritization, but the least that the pair should do is to apologize to their constituents for taking advantage of their position in placing their interest above the people’s.

But Peña has a point in claiming that he is a frontliner too. If the DOH had not only specifically identified the health care frontliners as its intended beneficiaries, he and other LGU executives could have justifiably obtained the first dose ahead of the rest of us. Their work exposes them to almost as much danger of contracting the virus as health workers.

If only we had enough vaccine for everyone who is willing to get it, jumping the line wouldn’t have been a concern. The sad fact, however, is that what we have received so far is barely enough to cover the first dose for one percent of our adult population. Note that I did not say that we acquired them because technically we did not; we merely received them as doleouts from the Chinese government and the World Health Organization.

The burden of acquiring a vaccine for every willing Filipino rests with the government. Admittedly, there is not enough supply in the market to meet demand as governments all over the world scramble for the little that manufacturing countries free up from their hoard. But couldn’t our officials have done better than wait for acts of charity? And rather than dismiss our yearning for more vaccines as politicizing an emergency, shouldn’t these officials tell us what they have done and are doing and when we can see the results?

I read yesterday that a company that operates a nationwide chain of fast-food restaurants will have all its employees vaccinated at its own expense. Other companies have taken the same initiative of acquiring the vaccine on their own through a consortium of sorts that directly deals with the government and the supplier. Part of the deal, allegedly required not by the government but by a particular vaccine manufacturer, is that for every dose that the private sector purchases, an equivalent number shall be donated to the government.

Sharing is, of course, a good thing during this period of national emergency. Still you wonder if this added burden to a sector that is already heavily taxed could have been avoided.