Solons to DICT, DOH: Why issue a separate COVID-19 vaccine passport?
MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers are confused as to why the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and other government agencies insist on issuing a separate COVID-19 vaccination certificate or passport when other countries just require travelers to present the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis as approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Known popularly as the Carte Jaune or “yellow card,” the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis is recognized internationally and may be required for entry to certain countries where there are increased health risks for travelers.
Nueva Ecija 1st District Rep. Estrellita Suansing asked during a House hearing on Friday why traveling Filipinos would still need yellow cards if the government will be issuing a vaccination certificate.
This was after both Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Assistant Secretary Eric Tamayo and Department of Health (DOH) Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag admitted that the two agencies along with the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) are currently issuing yellow cards while waiting for the launch of VaxCertPH — the DICT’s program for a vaccine passport.
Once VaxCertPH is operational, Tayag said the process of issuing yellow cards will be harmonized — leading Suansing to ask why there is a need for a separate document.
“So if yellow card, which is P300, Chair may bayad ang yellow card eh, sa BOQ, so I am really looking forward do’n sa libre sana no, kasi syempre libre nga ‘yong vaccine tapos ‘yong yellow card may bayad,” Suansing said during the House committee on information and communications technology hearing about DICT’s COVID-19 response.
“If the yellow card is already recognized internationally, then bakit meron pang VaxCertPH. So is VaxCertPH support to yellow card kasi, ano ‘to? Mawawala na ang yellow card, kasi sabi ni Director Tayag i-synchronized daw ang yellow card sa VaxCertPH?” she asked.
In response, DICT Undersecretary Emmanuel Rey Caintic said there is a need to still use VaxCertPH as there are other details about COVID-19 vaccinations which are not contained in the yellow cards.
Caintic also explained that yellow cards will still be required documents for travel as these cover vaccination information on other diseases like yellow fever and cholera.
“Unang-una niyang ginawang regulation — syempre bago nagka-COVID-19 — is yellow card. So 196 countries-members, yellow card ‘yan (for) yellow fever, measles, and whatever. Ang kumplikado po kasi, mas kailangan ‘yan ng datos na may first dose, second dose, anong brand, kailan tinurok,” Caintic said.
“So may mga dagdag na mga variances, the date, the time, the brand, saan tinurok. Kung kaya ang World Health (Organization) gumawa sila ng bagong standard na kailangan siya maging digital kasi kailangan ‘yong simple lang mava-validate po talaga digitally kung valid ba ‘to,” he added.
Caintic added that as some countries may not recognize VaxCert as issued by the Philippine government, the yellow card will serve as a supporting document to show that the traveler is fully vaccinated.
“So bakit natin i-dalawa? Kasi habang ipino-propagate pa lang po ang paggamit sa ibang bansa, kailangan you have to recognize both. And I think the countries also recognize (both) so for now dalawa muna,” he noted.
The VaxCert is a program by the DICT and DOH that aims to provide Filipinos going abroad some sort of a vaccine passport, to avoid incidents where Filipinos are denied access as they only present vaccination details from local governments.
Tamayo was referring to Hong Kong’s previous declaration that vaccination cards issued by the Philippines would not be honored.
The government eyes the launch of VaxCert on September 1.
Meanwhile, Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo said the VaxCertPH rollout should be prioritized to ensure that it would serve its purpose, noting that it may lose its effectiveness once more countries have attained herd immunity against COVID-19.
According to Quimbo, she just got back from the United States and she was never asked to present a separate vaccination certificate because the country had already achieved herd immunity.
“Very useful siya sa ngayon especially na walang pang herd immunity. But once you achieve herd immunity, the usefulness of that VaxCert is diminished. Like I just came from the US, in many places alam niyo never po ako hinanapan ng VaxCert even entry sa airport, sa kahit na saan, never ako hinanapan,” Quimbo said.
“And I think that’s because herd immunity na sila […] Ano ang timelines natin, kasi the sooner that we’re able to rollout the VaxCert which I believe is a very, very important initiative and I congratulate you for that, pero the usefulness is diminished if we wait longer di ba,” she added.
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