Editorial: Educate, not threaten

·4 min read

AS OF June 20, 2021, the Philippine government has administered a total of 8,407,342 vaccine doses. Of this number, 6,253,400 have received their first dose, while 2,153,942 have received their second dose and are fully vaccinated. The country has been administering an average of 208,809 doses per day in the last seven days.

While it is good to see that more and more are getting vaccinated, misinformation and vaccine hesitation are slowing down the vaccination rollout of the government.

The vaccine hesitation of some has ruffled the feathers of the President.

On Monday evening, June 21, 2021, President Rodrigo Duterte threatened individuals who refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

“Itong mga g*** na ayaw magpabakuna, and they are really the carriers. If they can travel from one place to another, carrying the virus and then contaminating other people,” the President said.

He added: “Don’t get me wrong. There is a crisis being faced in this country. There is a national emergency. Kung ayaw mong magpabakuna, ipaaresto kita.”

Several netizens and those who are anti-vaccine were quick to react against the statement of the government. Well, we could not blame them for their reaction. What the President said was clearly uncalled for.

For a man whose words tend to become policy, this was a dangerous statement from him.

While there is a need to vaccinate as many Filipinos as possible against the Covid-19, we cannot force them to get one. At present, we currently do not have a choice of what brand we can get due to the limited supply of vaccines. However, individuals still have a choice if they want to be vaccinated or not.

It was also the government which has repeatedly said it will not force anyone to get the vaccine and it will be voluntary.

“Walang pilitan para kay Pangulong Duterte. Although talagang ini-encourage niya at ini-encourage ng buong gobyerno ang lahat ng mga kababayan natin na pagdating ng takdang oras na kayo na rin po ay susunod sa linya na nga po ng magpapabakunahan, tanggapin po natin ito ng buong loob at walang pag-aalinlangan (The President won’t force anyone. Although he and the entire government are encouraging the public to accept the vaccine without hesitation when the time comes that they are next in line to receive the vaccine),” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles was quoted as saying in a Philippine News Agency report on March 4, 2021.

Threatening people to get the vaccine is not a smart way to go when you need them to get the vaccine. For starters, you are removing them of their freedom of choice -- their choice to make a decision on whether they will get the vaccine or risk not getting one.

The government instead must improve its education campaign on the vaccine. Simply having a social media campaign is not enough. It needs an effective full-blown communications campaign that will educate as many Filipinos as much as possible about the vaccines.

The vaccine hesitancy is also brought about by what seems to be a lack of transparency on the vaccines and the delayed response of health officials to address properly the questions of the public when it comes to the side effects of the vaccine. With social media, misinformation on vaccines and health spreads faster and wider before the health officials can provide an answer. If ever they address the issue, it has already been drowned out by misinformation.

When it comes to educating the public, the government and its partners must act and address issues faster. The government should also urge vaccine manufacturers to be more transparent when it comes to their vaccines and their side effects.

An education campaign that can be understood by the masses may also be crafted. This campaign must be designed in a way that scientific concepts can be understood by adults who did not receive a proper education.

The government may also come up with incentive schemes to encourage people to get vaccinated. At present, the private sector which is part of the Ingat Angat campaign has been giving incentives to those who have been vaccinated. These incentives range from discounts to a free dish at a restaurant.

Rather than threatening people, the government must educate the Filipinos on the vaccines, be transparent to them about the vaccines, and be more encouraging to them. You cannot force people into things, but what you can do is provide them an environment where they can make informed decisions and think critically.