'Deeply concerning': Health group hits Duterte threat to jail vaccine decliners

'Deeply concerning': Health group hits Duterte threat to jail vaccine decliners
Residents of Quezon City line up for Pfizer vaccine during the inoculation for A1, A2, A3 and A5 categories at Kia Theatre in Cubao on June 23, 2021.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — A health group on Thursday denounced the government's "persistent use of fear" in responding to the pandemic, after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to jail individuals who would not get vaccinated for COVID-19. 

The president made the remark this week as the country deals with vaccine hesitancy that sent his officials seeking to clarify that it would not be a new policy. 

In a statement, the Coalition for People's Right to Health called Duterte's comments as deeply concerning that may carry legal and social implications. 

"This once again highlights the administration's vaccine-centric strategy," it said. "The hope for ending the pandemic has always been firmly placed on vaccines, despite medical history and science showing that it is more of a combination of many public health strategies."

Duterte himself has pinned the country's hopes for a way out of the health crisis on the jabs. Essentially, his administration had shunned calls for other measures such as mass testing. 

Critics said too that he has militarized the response by putting retired military officials in the pandemic task force, as well as deploying cops and soldiers to carry out curbs. 

CPRH said there is a similarity with Duterte's threat to jail those hesitant to get vaccinated on his drug war. "Instead of understanding the root cause of the deviance, such as vaccine trauma, anxiety, or even alienation from the health system," it said, "emergency or police powers are seen as a quick-fix by the powerful."

The group added that vaccine hesitancy is being used as a "convenient scapegoat." It sought to explain that the term means a refusal of the jabs despite its availability, and does not apply where acceptance is low due to lack of supplies or inaccessibility. 

Inoculation efforts in the country began in March, and while doses both donated and procured have arrived, the supply has yet to become stable.

More than eight million doses have been administered, with 2.1 million completing their shots and 6.4 million with first dose. 

"Without addressing the glaring unavailability of vaccines, the inaccessibility of vaccination sites for the working and marginalized," CPRH said, "and the lack of community-centered information on immunization, blaming the people once again violates their right to health, among many other civil liberties." —  Christian Deiparine

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