By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — The government has expanded its priority list in its COVID-19 vaccination program to include essential workers, heeding the call of Senator Joel Villanueva who sought their inclusion as early as December last year given their vital role in ensuring basic services are provided to the people.
In a statement, the lawmaker likewise asked officials of the Inter-Agency Task Force to ensure that its priority targets are clearly identified so that there would be no overlapping in the selection of beneficiaries, thus maximizing the limited vaccine supply.
“We thank the government for heeding our call to include essential workers in the priority list, as well as our OFWs, including seafarers. Essential workers include jeepney and bus drivers, retail workers, security guards, hospital and laboratory personnel, waste collectors, food and delivery riders, among others. They are responsible for keeping essential businesses continue operating, even while people are on lockdown and most are working from home,” Villanueva explained.
“While it is good that the government has expanded its target beneficiaries to 35 million individuals, which we have already sought as early as December last year, we ask that our IATF to make their targeting precise. They should come up with a master list detailing the profiles of essential workers across sectors and geographic locations. This is to ensure that no one gets left behind,” Villanueva said in a statement.
“Just like the other priority groups, they are more prone to catching the virus because of the nature of their jobs. There should be no debate on their inclusion in the government’s priority list in the government vaccination program,” he continued.
Villanueva also cited Indonesia’s strategy of prioritizing essential workers in their vaccination program. While Villanueva noted that he also believes that the elderly should be prioritized, the national policy adopted by Indonesia regarding their vaccination program showed that workers should also be given attention to in the national vaccination program, pointed out the lawmaker, who chairs the Senate labor committee.
In his response to Villanueva, Galvez said the Inter-Agency Task Force made adjustments in its target beneficiaries, which it initially set at 24.6 million individuals, to include essential workers, seafarers, and OFWs.
Pressed by Villanueva to specify the kinds of essential workers to be included, Galvez mentioned “transportation, power, electricity and other life cycle workers, seafarers and OFWs” are already included in the priority list.
In his earlier presentation, Galvez said the IATF would also include teachers, social workers, and other government workers, “essential workers outside health, education, and social welfare sectors such as agriculture food industry, and tourism,” among others, socio-demographic groups, other remaining workforce and citizens.
While the national government continues to finalize its vaccine supply contracts with pharmaceutical firms, Villanueva urged the government to make a more detailed targeting of beneficiaries to ensure that there would be no overlaps among those in the priority list. He explained that a beneficiary may “fall under two or more categories in the priority list, which includes seniors and the elderly, indigent, government workers, etc.”
In his opening remarks, Villanueva also said he was hoping that government would put its act together in the implementation of the national vaccination program so that poor Filipinos, especially ordinary laborers, will not be prejudiced.
He lamented reports that Chinese nationals or the so-called POGO workers were given vaccine injections way ahead of Filipinos. (AI/MTVN)