'A huge failure': Roque criticized anew for saying public can't be picky with vaccine brand
This screengrab is from the June 30, 2020 press briefing by presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.
PTV, screen grab

'A huge failure': Roque criticized anew for saying public can't be picky with vaccine brand

Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - January 12, 2021 - 11:38am

MANILA, Philippines (Update 2, 6:17 p.m.) — "The government works for the people," a former COVID-19 task force adviser emphasized on Tuesday after Malacañang said Filipinos would not be able to choose which brand of vaccine to receive from the government.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque was the subject of criticism again for his remarks on Monday, telling the public in Filipino during a briefing: "It is true that we all have the right to good health but we cannot afford to be picky because there are so many Filipinos who need to be vaccinated." He added that the government will not force inoculation on those unwilling to receive the jabs.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles on Tuesday similarly warned Filipinos that they would be forfeiting their priority slots if they choose not to take government-acquired vaccines.

"You may opt not to take it, but be prepared to be at the end of the line," Nograles said during a virtual briefing.

The failure to lead

Dr. Tony Leachon, who previously warned that the government's inoculation effort could suffer if it insists on buying vaccines "contrary to the people's preference," hit the lack of leadership displayed by Malacañang on the matter. 

"The nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are not compassionate and humble. I expect leaders to have the capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence," he wrote on Twitter.

"Spox is a huge failure," he added, referring to Roque.

During the same Monday briefing, Roque said the government had procured 25 million doses of coronavirus vaccines from China's Sinovac, the first shipment of which is expected to arrive as soon as February.

But the Chinese-manufactured jabs are hounded by uncertainty, as the firm has not yet released worldwide results from tests that are being conducted in Chile, Indonesia, Brazil and Turkey. It is also the second most expensive jab among the vaccines which the government is currently eyeing for procurement.

'We deserve to be choosy'

For Leachon, the right to health enshrined in the Charter means Filipinos have the right to be critical of the vaccines acquired by the government.

"Well, that is a very unfair statement coming from the spokesperson. Because to me, and it is [written] in the Constitution that health is a basic right...We deserve to be choosy because we need to find the right vaccines for us based on efficacy and safety," the health advocate told ANC's "Matter of Fact" on Tuesday.

"And almost all the surveys are saying right now that there's vaccine hesitancy because of the safety concerns of the vaccine. And when there's a safety concern, I think you need to heed the call of the customers," he added.

A recent Pulse Asia survey found that 47% of Filipinos are not willing to be inoculated against COVID-19, while only 32% said they would receive a vaccine. An overwhelming 84% of those unwilling to be vaccinated said they were concerned that the jabs would not be safe.

"The government works for the people and I think the government should actually [look] for the right vaccine," Leachon said.

"And there are two non-negotiable things the people would want, and that is basically efficacy and safety of the vaccine," he added.

Reuters on Tuesday cited a Brazilian news portal report that said a clinical trial conducted in the country found that that the Sinovac vaccine's general efficacy was less than 60%. Last week, it was reported to have shown 78% effectiveness in late-stage trials also conducted in Brazil. Last month, Turkey said the vaccine showed the efficacy of 91.25% in late-stage evaluation.

Global health authorities have set the benchmark efficacy rate for coronavirus vaccines at a range of 50% to 60% citing the urgent need for inoculation.

"Why would I choose a brand with only 50% efficacy and doesn't even have application for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), against other brands with 79% and/or 95% efficacy and have pending EUA approval from the Food and Drug Administration?" Sen. Ping Lacson said partially in Filipino on Tuesday. 

He also called  it "unfair" to deprive Filipinos of the ability to choose which brand of vaccine to receive from the government.
 
"It’s bad enough that the national government virtually controls which brand/s of vaccines to procure. Pati ba naman ang pagpili kung ano ituturok sa braso ng mga Pilipino, hindi pa rin pwede mamili ang Pilipino? (Filipinos still can't choose which of these vaccines will be injected into them?)" he said.

Filipinos can't be picky but their president can?

Sen. Risa Hontiveros pointed out that while the public is expected not to be picky, the same expectation does not seem to apply to President Rodrigo Duterte.

"We can't be choosy but the president is still choosing between Russian and Chinese vaccines. The Filipino people should be free to choose too. This is [about] our health," Hontiveros wrote in Filipino on Twitter in response to Roque's remarks.

The presidential spokesman on Monday said Duterte was hoping to take both a Russian-made and a Chinese-made vaccine but was told to choose between the two.

The president has long been vocal about his close affinity to China and Russia, having publicly praised both countries' leaders on several occasions.

"I cannot overemphasize my debt of gratitude," Duterte said in a speech aired mid-August, thanking Beijing and Moscow for expressing their willingness to provide the country with their vaccines.

"Stop threatening. Stop cramming [vaccine] preferences down people's throats. The Palace only adds to the public anxiety that is evident in surveys. Distrust is a threat to the success of the national vaccination plan," Hontiveros said partially in Filipino.

She also challenged the Palace to prove to the public that it would be "faithful" to the process and to prove its belief that vaccines are a health solution rather than a political favor.

"The public should be reassured, not threatened," Hontiveros added in Filipino. 

As of this writing, the health department has tallied 489,736 Filipinos who have contracted coronavirus, 9,416 of whom have died as a result. It has been 303 days since parts of the country were first placed under lockdown. 

— with a report from Christian Deiparine 

COVID-19 NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
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