In a country with a high vaccine hesitancy, a high government official getting COVID-19 vaccine shots could make a change. Unfortunately, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and a number of his Cabinet officials are hiding in the cloak of old age to avoid getting inoculated. Could this be because they also do not trust Coronavac, the vaccine developed by Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company Sinovac, which efficacy is reported at 50.4%?
The Philippines started rolling-out on Monday, March 1, 2021, its long delayed vaccination against COVID-19. Despite being the second hardest hit country in Southeast Asia, the Philippines is the last country to secure vaccine supply. Complicating this is the high vaccine hesitancy noted between 40% to 60%. In Metro Manila, for instance, only 25 percent are willing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 with 47% undecided and 28% firm of not getting inoculation. “Vaccine hesitancy” refers to the “delay in acceptance or refusal of safe vaccines despite the availability of vaccination services.”
To address vaccine hesitancy, there are suggestions that a more ‘localized’ public education and role-modeling from public officials and health authorities be conducted to build public trust to vaccines. Unfortunately, President Duterte himself would not want to be a model by initially saying that he wanted to be inoculated privately. After much prodding, he changed his mind but with the arrival of Coronavac, used the regulations and prioritization framework for vaccine distribution as issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on COVID-19, and the age restrictions as excuses. The IATF regulations prioritizes frontline workers in the national and local health facilities.
Coronavac was also tested on individuals 18-59 years old. Hence, it’s effect on those below 18 and 60 years old and above are still unknown. For this, Duterte said he was advised by his doctor not to take Coronavac. Citing age as excuse, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Defense Zecretary Delfin Lorenzana also begged off for Coronavac inoculation.
But while Filipino government officials are trying to avoid as much as they can to be vaccinated, 67-year-old Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and 63-year old Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam were administered with a jab of the Sinovac’s Covid-19 vaccine in front of cameras in January and February this year, respectively. Indonesian President Joko Widodo also got his second jab of Coronavac last January. Widodo is turning 60 years old this June.
Top honchos in the Philippine government, including President Duterte himself, were all praises for Sinovac. But, avoiding inoculation when the situation so warrants only raises questions — first, on the efficacy of Coronavac; and second, on the possibility that these government officials have earlier availed of of the illegal vaccination last September.
Of course, there is no means knowing the real score at this point. With the President’s tendency for verbal outbursts, we may be getting confirmation soon. Remember, it was Duterte himself, with his unbriddled tongue, the source of the information for illegal vaccination.