The threat to arrest Filipinos who refuse to be vaccinated is ill-advised as the punitive measure hardly addresses the roots of the country’s dismal vaccination figures.
Since the government implemented last March 1 the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan for Covid-19 Vaccines, only 2.25 million Filipinos, representing 2.1 percent of the total population of 108.1 million, were fully vaccinated as of June 22, according to ourworldindata.org. The website, a collaboration between Oxford University and the non-profit organization Global Change Data Lab, uses data from official sources.
President Rodrigo Duterte said he may consider getting local government officials to list down the names of citizens who refuse to be vaccinated, vowing to take action against those who refuse to cooperate in a “crisis” or “national emergency,” reported Wenilyn B. Sabalo and Philip A. Cerojano in SunStar Cebu last June 22.
Disregarding the presidential penchant for hyperbole, stakeholders must avoid the discourse of divisiveness, pitting one group against another. All Filipinos want to emerge safe and healthy from the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic and restore the economy for everyone’s security, especially those made most vulnerable by the community lockdowns.
From several local governments comes the persistent call for vaccine supply to be sufficient and regular to meet the local demand. Intermittent and inadequate vaccine supply lead to vaccination centers being shut down temporarily or discourage local government units (LGUs) from opening more vaccination centers.
The Cebu City Government asked for a bigger Covid-19 vaccine allocation from the Department of Health (DOH) 7, after closing all vaccination sites for a day because no vaccines were available, reported Jerra Mae J. Librea and Wenilyn B. Sabalo in SunStar Cebu on June 26.
The supply of vaccines at the local level is determined by the national government’s procurement and allocation of vaccines.
Vaccine supply must stabilize, especially as many LGUs have moved into serving the A5 group of indigent Filipinos, which is more numerous than the previous groups of frontline health care workers, mayors and governors (A1), the elderly (A2), persons with comorbidities (A3) and essential workers working outside their homes (A4).
Achieving herd immunity also requires opening more vaccination centers and improving access for communities that live in remote areas or have limited or no means for mobility.
For as long as physical distancing and other safety protocols are maintained, the relaxation of the no-walk-in rule for vaccination meets many objectives: vaccinate those who are willing and show up for vaccination; substitute those with appointments who do not show up for the vaccination; and use the available vaccines and prevent wastage since a vial may contain multiple doses which, after opening, must be consumed within a specific period.
Markedly absent is a grassroots health communication campaign to address the varied reasons behind vaccine hesitancy and refusal to get vaccinated.
Even among many Filipinos with the education or access to online information, the emergency use authorization (EUA) of Covid-19 vaccines is associated with high risk and government’s avoidance of accountability should there be deleterious side effects of the vaccination.
Digital media, to supplement or replace face-to-face communication, should be mobilized for health communication to address anxieties and counter misinformation and false information concerning Covid-19 vaccines, especially given the country’s continuing difficulty to move on and learn from the Dengvaxia controversy.
Public trust must be earned by the government and all stakeholders for the country to advance in the process to achieve herd immunity and survive this pandemic.