Nurses for vaccines: Philippines in talks with UK, Germany

AdChoiceTV News — The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is negotiating to secure at least 600,000 COVID vaccines from the United Kingdom and Germany for departing and displaced overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Alice Visperas, DOLE international labor affairs bureau director, said at a virtual briefing yesterday that Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III has asked the governments of both countries to provide the Philippines with vaccines in exchange for the deployment of more Filipino health care workers (HCWs).

She noted that Bello had informed the two countries that the Philippine government is considering to grant them exemption from the deployment cap if they would agree to the agency’s requests, which include renewal of previous bilateral agreements providing protection for OFWs.

Both Germany and the UK have been seeking exemption from the government’s existing cap in the deployment of nurses and other HCWs abroad to ensure a sufficient supply of health care professionals in the Philippines during the pandemic. The HCWs, particularly nurses, are highly in demand in European countries due to the aging population.

While DOLE is still waiting for feedback, Visperas is optimistic that the requests will be granted. The UK government, she said, is expected to send a response within the week.

If the UK and Germany will agree to provide vaccines, DOLE will use them for OFWs who were displaced by the pandemic as well as those who will be going back abroad, she added.

Visperas explained that Bello wanted to secure the vaccines for OFWs because vaccination is now becoming a common requirement for entering foreign migrants.

Mark Alvin Bernaldez, a registered nurse who supposed to leave the Philippines for US told AdChoiceTV News that the move of Secretary Bello is very hypocrite. He said that they were being ban to leave the country in the middle of the pandemic which caused him to lost his job in the US.

But now, he said that bello is making such deal while thousands of nurses lost their job abroad when he implemented the ban. Very hypocrite, what do they think of the nurses? A thing that they can just give at anytime they want and stop it when they want too? He said in a messenger chat box.

Whenever that deal push through i hope they can also push that we can be an immigrant in Germany and UK so we don’t need to go back in this country that we can never have hope. As that is the offer we’re getting from the US. He added.

Some Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLOs) reported that a number of destination countries for OFWs are no longer accepting migrants not vaccinated against COVID, she said.

Based on DOLE data, over 570,000 OFWs were displaced by the pandemic, thus the need to secure at least 600,000 vaccines from UK and Germany.

Meanwhile, the country’s discussions with Russia on the possible purchase of COVID-19 vaccines are now at a “very advanced stage,” said Manila’s envoy to Moscow Ambassador Carlos Sorreta.

He noted that the vaccines would be acquired through a government-to-government commercial agreement and not through donation because the Duterte administration is ready to pay for the COVID-19 shots.

“Our discussions on a technical level with Russia are in a very advanced stage. Right now, we are waiting for additional information, technical data being sought by the Philippines. Once it is obtained, I think that’s the final step for our FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to make a decision,” Sorreta said at a press briefing.

“And once they make a decision, the Russian side is ready to sit down and sign, which they have done already with 30 countries, and there are 50 other counties lined up. So I think that’s the next step… If we make a decision soon and give the approval, I think the vaccines can come in a fairly quick amount of time,” he added.

He noted that it is hard to give a timeline for the procurement but the Philippines is constantly following up on the information it is seeking from Russia.

Russia has offered to supply the Philippines Sputnik V vaccines developed by Gamaleya Research Institute. Sorreta said the Russian vaccine is available commercially in that country and some Filipinos have availed themselves of it.

“If you go to a private doctor, you can avail of it… Aside from medical centers in our areas, they set up vaccination facilities in the malls. Filipinos frequent malls and perhaps after shopping or eating at the food court, they drop by the vaccination center,” the envoy said. — via Albert Rovic Tan

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