COVID-19 vaccination: Workers’ Concerns

In response to the comprehensive national plan for immunization against COVID-19, the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD) demands for the following: mandatory occupational safety and health education on vaccination in workplaces; free, safe, and effective vaccines; and prioritization of workers and other marginalized sectors over uniformed personnel in the vaccination program.


(1)  For the vaccination program to be successful, the government must uphold workers’ informed consent, not enforced vaccination. The pandemic has triggered volumes of new information at record speed, making anyone vulnerable to misinformation. Without enough time or resources, the public can fall into the catchy and convenient but unproven narratives rather than seek out accurate and evidence-based data. While there is a need for vaccination, this should be done through persuasion and education. Repression and forcing people to undergo vaccination will only play into the hands of paranoia and misinformation. The government should enforce mandatory education on vaccination in the workplace.

(2) The government should provide free, safe and effective vaccines regardless of employment status to genuinely protect the movers of the Philippine economy. It should ensure that the already-impoverished and embattled workers of the country will not pay the cost of vaccination from their own pockets. At the same time, it should create mechanisms for treatment and compensation for the vaccination’s possible adverse effects to assure workers that they are not gambling with their lives.

(3) The government should stay true to the values reflected in the prioritization list created by the World Health Organization SAGE1 and not leave the marginalized population behind. Sociodemographic groups at significantly higher risk than other senior citizens should take priority over uniformed personnel based on the principles of well-being, equal respect and equity1,2. Their situation predisposes them to suffer greater damage from the pandemic. Until the government can ensure equal access of vaccines to them, it cannot truly say that it was able to address the interests of its people with equal respect or provide everyone with equal opportunities.

The disadvantaged or persecuted ethnic, racial, gender, and religious groups and sexual minorities, people living with disabilities, people living in extreme poverty, homeless and those living in informal settlements or urban slums, low-income migrant workers, refugees, internally displaced persons, asylum seekers, populations in conflict settings or those affected by humanitarian emergencies, vulnerable migrants in irregular situations, nomadic populations, and hard-to-reach population groups such as those in rural and remote areas1 have long suffered from the inequalities of health and opportunities to develop ones’ self in society. They should not be left farther behind as the country moves forward and heal from the pandemic.

We are therefore calling out this government’s blatant favoritism of uniformed officers over those in greater need! In the middle of a global health crisis, it is unfathomablethat it provided the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict access to PhP 19-B of the national budget3 when only PhP 2.5-B of the PhP 72.5-B budget for vaccines is readily available4,5. It is also unacceptable that it allotted 33-B for modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines6 when only 4.7-B is allocated for enhancement of health facilities7. It is all the more frustrating that it altered prioritization to displace indigents and the rest of the marginalized community in favor of uniformed personnel. And, when the bar could not be set any lower, it allowed the compassionate use of vaccines without published safety and efficacy studies for the use of the Presidential Security Group amidst stringent regulations in place8.

Thus, together with the Solidarity of Health Advocates and Personnel for a Unified Plan to Defeat COVID-19 and Coalition for People’s Right to Health, we reiterate the call for the national government to ensure centralized planning, procurement, transport, distribution, and integrity of vaccines and technologies to ensure equity, accountability, and cost-effectiveness9. Furthermore, IOHSAD challenges the government to create a culture of trust by showing compliance with its own protocols, imposing due punishment for its violations, and serving as an example by having its officials take the first doses of the vaccines once available.

As more vaccines complete their phase 3 trials, the rest of the world grows hopeful in controlling the pandemic, but the Philippines has yet to see the end in sight. In the latest Pulse Asia survey, almost half of Filipinos, 47%, would prefer not to get vaccinated against COVID-1910. While the uncertainty of the safety, cost and need for a vaccine to combat COVID-19 are cited as reasons for vaccine hesitancy, the people did not come to these conclusions alone. The government has created an environment of mistrust with its lapses in the pandemic response, non-accountability in the Dengvaxia fiasco, perpetuation of fake news, and neglect of a health care system that has failed the Filipinos time and again. The little belief the public had has been converted into doubt and is hurting all efforts to control COVID-19. With safety as the primary concern of Filipinos in choosing to be vaccinated 11, a systemic change with timely and effective dissemination of correct vaccine information at its core is necessary for the country to work towards achieving herd immunity and put an end to this pandemic.

References

[1] World Health Organization (2020). WHO SAGE Roadmap For Prioritizing Uses of COVID-19 Vaccines in the Context of Limited Supply: An approach to inform planning and subsequent recommendations based upon epidemiologic setting and vaccine supply scenarios.

[2] World Health Organization (2020). WHO SAGE Values Framework for the Allocation and Prioritization of COVID-19 Vaccination

[3] CNN Philippines (2020). ₱19B NTF-ELCAC fund stays in Congress-approved budget. Retrieved February 12, 2021 from https://www.cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/12/10/P19-billion-NTF-ELCAC-stays-Congress-ratified-budget.html

[4] CNN Philippines (2020). Duterte signs ₱4.5-T budget for 202. Retrieved February 12, 2021 from https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/12/28/Duterte-signs-2021-budget.html

[5]Gotinga, JC (2020.) Why is much of the budget for COVID-19 vaccines wait-listed? Politics. Retrieved February 12, 2021 from

https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/in-depth/covid-19-vaccines-2021-budget-wait-listed-because-politics

[6] Department of Budget and Management (2021). National Expenditure Program 2021: Department of National Defense, General Headquarters, AFP and AFP Wide Service Support Units (AFPWSSUS)

[7] Department of Budget and Management (2021). National Expenditure Program 2021: Details of Health Facilities Enhancement Program Under DOH

[8] Luna, F. (2021). FDA approves compassionate use license on vaccines for PSG personnel. Retrieved February 12, 2021 from

https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2021/02/11/2077017/fda-approves-compassionate-use-license-vaccines-psg-personnel

[9] SHAPE-UP COVID-19 and CPRH (2020).  8-point calls for a comprehensive, equitable, and transparent COVID-19 vaccine roll-out. Retrieved February 12, 2021 from https://fb.watch/2-YKTQtp-G/

[10] Deiparine, C. (2021). 47% of Filipinos unwilling to get COVID-19 jabs, worried of vaccine safety — survey. Retrieved February 11, 2021 from https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2021/01/07/2068852/47-filipinos-unwilling-get-covid-19-jabs-worried-vaccine-safety-survey

[11] ABS-CBN News (2021). Pinoys prioritize COVID-19 vaccine safety in decision to get inoculated: survey. Retrieved February 12, 2021 from

https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/01/27/21/pinoys-prioritize-covid-19-vaccine-safety-in-decision-to-get-inoculated-survey

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