WITH the official start of the vaccination process against COVID-19 for our listed and identified priority groups there is now a growing clamor for the vaccination of other frontliners against the pandemic.
Just recently Health Secretary Francisco Duque III had to issue a clarification, reported thru the media, that officials of Local Government Units (LGUs) are not included in a higher priority group in the vaccination program against the COVID 19 virus, since according to Duque healthcare workers remain the top priority for the program followed by barangay health workers.
The clarification made by Secretary Duque came at the heels of reports that “the National Inter-Agency Task Force (NIATF) has approved the request of the national president of League of the Cities of the Philippines (LCP) to classify local chief executives among the priorities for vaccination.”
While the logic is sound for prioritizing healthcare workers in the COVID-19 vaccination program the national government, more particularly the Department of Health, should also consider including in the priority group those who, while not classified as healthcare workers, also serve in the frontlines and are inevitably exposed to those people who are sick.
These frontliners should include barangay officials who are not included as members of the Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams or the so called BHERTS which was previously organized in accordance with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Memorandum Circular No. 2020-023. They are the appointed and elected barangay officials such as Barangay Kagawads, Barangay Secretaries, Barangay Treasurers, other Barangay Tanods as well as other appointed barangay officers. These are frontliners since they are also in face-to-face contact with their constituents on an almost daily basis, and with those who are suspected or probable COVID-19 cases. This is especially true in cases where a hard lockdown is imposed on a particular alley, purok or barangay and these barangay officials undertake the responsibility of taking care of their constituents. Most of these barangay officials are not healthcare workers but they function to prevent the spread of the virus in the community, by monitoring and vigilance, as well as IECs, and mitigate its ill effects upon their constituents.
Now going up to a higher level we also have the executive officers of the various cities, municipalities and provinces such as governors, vice governors, mayors, vice mayors, etc. who, while not healthcare workers, are equally at the very frontlines in the war against the COVID-19 virus by directly engaging with the public in all feasible instances and circumstances. Their mandate is clearly spelled out in the same DILG MC which organized the BHERTS. In that circular we find that these local chief executives have specific roles and responsibilities which lead them to directly engage with the public and other public and private personalities and groups in order to sustain the effort to prevent, manage and mitigate the spread of the virus in their respective jurisdictions. They are therefore frontliners in the very real sense of the word.
If there are enough vaccines to go around then the suggestion would be to identify all those frontliners who not only treat and manage COVID patients or who are within medical facilities rendering assistance to medical workers, but also those serving in the frontlines to prevent and mitigate the spread of the virus. They should also be provided with equal footing in terms of vaccination priority.