MANILA -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has accused local chief executives of jumping ahead of a vaccination priority list led by 1.7 million health workers in order to get COVID-19 vaccines. There are growing concerns in the country about the surging number of coronavirus cases as the government struggles to secure enough vaccine doses.
The Philippine government is putting its 1.7 million health care workers at the top of the vaccination list, but mayors have reportedly jumped the line. Duterte disclosed the names of the mayors and asked them to provide explanations, adding that the children of some celebrities had also received jabs.
The Philippines imports COVID-19 vaccines from China's Sinovac Biotech and from COVAX, a global scheme co-led by the World Health Organization.
Duterte said he was told that the Philippines could lose support from the WHO if it does not vaccinate its citizens in order of priority. One million doses of the Sinovac vaccine arrived in the Philippines on Monday, but it will not be easy to secure enough doses of vaccines needed for its population of more than 100 million.
Some government leaders have been emphasizing the safety of COVID-19 vaccines by getting a jab themselves and thus encouraging take-up amid the population. But Duterte says their queue jumping represents a "gray area."
According to a survey conducted by pollster Pulse Asia on March 26, 61% of Filipinos said they would refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 despite the vaccine availability, citing security fears. The public concerns are likely to hinder the government's vaccination push.
The Philippines' daily COVID-19 cases have soared since March as new variants rage around the world, setting two new records this week, with more than 10,000 new infections on Monday and then 15,310 on Friday. In the face of a second wave that has surpassed the number of new cases recorded last summer, stricter measures, including curfews, have been imposed again in Metro Manila and other regions.
Additional reporting by Ella Hermonio.