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DOH: Government can't compel COVID-19 vaccination but getting jab is 'moral obligation'

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
DOH: Government can't compel COVID-19 vaccination but getting jab is 'moral obligation'
A senior citizen receives a COVID-19 jab at Pinyahan Elementary School in Quezon city during the continuation of inoculation of Sinovac vaccine on April 14, 2021.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — The government cannot compel Filipinos to get inoculated against the coronavirus disease, the Department of Health said Monday as a lawmaker pushed to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for eligible population.

In a briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire stressed that COVID-19 vaccination should be “purely voluntary.”

“At this period when these vaccines are still at the developmental stage, we cannot mandate people to accept these vaccines because this is not completed yet,” Vergeire said.

“We are adhering to the principle that the benefits outweigh the risks. That’s why we’re offering it to the population but it will be their right to decide if they will accept the vaccine or not,” she added.

While it is not mandating COVID-19 immunization, the government is highly encouraging the public to take part in COVID-19 vaccination, which is one of the most important tools to help end the pandemic. Vergeire said it is the “moral obligation” of Filipinos to get inoculated.

Scientists say that developing immunity through vaccination means there is a reduced risk of getting severe COVID-19. Getting vaccinated may also protect other people around you.

Bill seeking mandatory vaccination

Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. (Cavite) filed a bill seeking to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory to people who are eligible to get one.

Under the proposed measure, persons with medical conditions as determined by the DOH or by a licensed medical doctor shall be exempted from inoculation. The bill also seeks to punish those who violate any provision by paying a fine of not more than P50,000 or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.

Barzaga argued that herd immunity or population “can be only achieved by enacting legislation to mandate and promote COVID-19 vaccination, address vaccine hesitancy and instill public confidence in the personal, family and community benefits of immunization.”

According to the WHO, a substantial proportion of a population would need to be vaccinated, lowering the overall amount of virus able to spread, to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19.

But WHO officials do not envisage COVID-19 vaccines being made mandatory as they stressed that information campaigns and making jabs available to priority groups would be more effective, according to a Reuters report.

Nearly two months since the start of the country’s vaccination program, only 1.5 million vaccine doses have been so far administered. Broken down, over 1.3 million people have been afforded partial protection, while 209,456 have been fully vaccinated.

The country has received more than three million doses of COVID-19 shots so far, with the vast majority coming from China’s Sinovac Biotech. The bulk of the supply is not expected until later this year.

The country’s COVID-19 caseload reached 997,523 Sunday and is expected to pass one million on Monday. Of the total, 77,075 are active cases.

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