EDITORIAL - Vaccination or arrest

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Vaccination or arrest

Despite the risks posed by more infectious COVID variants, vaccine hesitancy remains significant among Filipinos. There are strange theories being passed around about the dire consequences of getting vaccinated, with the tales partly fueled by the hysteria regarding the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.

That hysteria led to a steep fall in childhood immunization particularly for measles, mumps and rubella, leading to 576 deaths from measles from Jan. 1 to Nov. 23, 2019. The hysteria was also partly blamed for the return of polio in the country in September of the same year, 19 years after the eradication of the debilitating and potentially deadly disease.

Health officials say the polio outbreak has been contained. The country, however, is struggling to contain COVID-19, with vaccination seen as the best hope for returning to any semblance of pre-pandemic normal. And vaccine hesitancy is real, so there is reason for President Duterte to be frustrated.

Arresting and putting in jail those who refuse to be vaccinated, however, will need a law, as the presidential spokesman has pointed out. The justice secretary also clarified that the President was merely stressing a point when he threatened last Monday to put behind bars those who refuse to be vaccinated. The Department of Health emphasized yesterday that vaccination remained voluntary nationwide.

While vaccine hesitancy is real, there is also a glaring inadequacy of supply for the large crowds jostling for their jabs in Metro Manila, with physical distancing often forgotten, and for the areas outside the capital that are now experiencing COVID surges.

The crowding at vaccination centers is not just for the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, but for any brand that has been approved for use in the country. Filipinos want to get vaccinated against a disease that as of yesterday had infected nearly 1.4 million people in the country and claimed 23,749 lives.

The problem has always been the lack of vaccines. Before anyone can be apprehended and jailed for refusing to be inoculated against COVID, the government must first make sure not only that there is a law authorizing the arrest, but also enough vaccines for those clamoring to get their jabs.



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