Fact check: COVID-19 is real; vaccination not mandatory in Philippines

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Fact check: COVID-19 is real; vaccination not mandatory in Philippines
Photo shows members of Gising Maharlika at a protest opposing vaccination.
Gising Maharlika TV on Facebook

MANILA, Philippines — A group of protesters, whose statements to a radio station spread on social media, claimed that the COVID-19 pandemic is not real, that there is mandatory vaccination in the Philippines and that it is killing people. This is false.

The group Gising Maharlika on September 18 held a protest at the Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila to oppose the pandemic response of the national government, including its vaccination program. 

The Philippine National Police warned the protesters, who were seen crowding together while not wearing face masks. Police Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, PNP chief, said: "Holding protest actions to insist on what you believe in does not make it right. It is but plain and simple acts of defiance and irresponsibility because you are putting our personnel and other civilian population at risk of being infected.”

What they were saying: One protester called for a stop to "mandatory" vaccines. She also claimed: "Walang isolation ng SarsCov-2, kaya walang COVID-19 (There is no isolation of SARS-CoV2 so there no COVID-19)."

She also said: “Huwag nyong isulong ang vaccine na nakakamatay sa madaming tao. Ang dami-dami nang namamatay, zero death pa rin [Department of Health]?”

(Stop promoting the vaccine that has been killing many people. So many people have died and you're still saying 'zero deaths'?)

What was left out: On March 12, 2020 — with more than 20,000 confirmed cases and nearly 1,000 deaths confirmed — Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization director-general, said COVID-19 "can be characterized as a pandemic."

It must also be noted that the Philippines does not implement mandatory vaccination. The Department of Health says on its website, however, that "the government highly encourages the public to get vaccinated and be protected against preventable disease."

President Rodrigo Duterte in June threatened to arrest people who refuse to be vaccinated, but there is no law or written policy that makes vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory.

On the claim that the vaccine kills people, the DOH stressed that vaccines that received Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration "are considered safe and effective based on the available evidence to date."

On Sunday, the DOH also said that data as of August 29 showed that 0.18% of those who received vaccines reported "reaction or symptoms on the body after inoculation. Most are mild and easily go away."

Why it matters: The tweet posted on September 18 has 55 retweets, 1,899 quote tweets and 473 likes. The attached video had 211.9k views as of September 24, 9:49 p.m.

The Philippines is battling a surge of COVID-19 cases due to the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus. Many hospitals have also reported full capacity in their COVID-19 wards.

When the national government reverted the National Capital Region to the strictest form of lockdown, it moved to ramp up vaccination among residents to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Essential context: The government launched its vaccination campaign, which relies heavily in public trust that vaccines are safe and effective, amid lingering fears brought about by the highly politicized Dengvaxia controversy in 2017.

A June 2020 survey of Pulse Asia showed that 43% of adult Filipinos are willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a 27% increase from a separate poll in February 2021 where only 16% were willing to get inoculated.

What kind of misinformation is this?: The statement made by the protesters in the video is an example of false content.

The protesters are denying the existence of COVID-19, which the WHO has confirmed as early as 2020 and categorized as a pandemic.

The Philippines as of September 26 has so far confirmed 2,490,858 COVID-19 cases, with 37,405 recorded deaths due to the coronavirus. There are still 161,447 deemed as active cases.

This story is part of the Philippine Fact-check Incubator, an Internews initiative to build the fact-checking capacity of news organizations in the Philippines and encourage participation in global fact-checking efforts

Have a claim you want fact-checked? Reach out to us at editor@philstar.com.

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