Congress bill can forbid un-vaccinated from voting

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Congress is rushing a bill that can bar those un-vaccinated for COVID-19 from voting in Election 2022. It can even deter the ongoing voter registration.

The House of Reps committee on health is to fasttrack deliberations on the bill that would prohibit non-vaccinees from public places and events. This as the Executive has yet to adequately supply vaccines and speed up distribution and injecting.

Under House Bill No. 9252, “No persons who are covered by this Act, as determined by the Department of Health, shall be allowed to enter, convene or occupy public places, whether or not government- or privately-owned.”

That means restaurants, malls, churches – even polling precincts and voter registration sites. Such places are specified for enlistment of voters and casting of ballots.

“Drastic measure” is needed against vaccine hesitancy and choosiness, said author Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. The bill exempts persons with medical conditions, as determined by the DOH or a licensed medical doctor, from mandatory inoculation against COVID-19.

Barzaga said Sunday, Aug. 1, that health committee chair Rep. Helen Tan will hold hearings within this or next month. Target enactment is the soonest, before congressmen’s term ends in June 2022.

The bill aims to compel “herd immunity.” That is, immunization of 70 percent of the population, or 77 million of 110 million. Epidemiologists say herd immunity, by vaccination or actual infection, can contain the pandemic.

With the trickling arrival of inoculants and slow vaccination rate, experts project herd immunity to be achieved only by year-end 2022. That would be seven months after the presidential-congressional-local balloting in May 2022.

As of Aug. 1, five months after the government began, only 8.36 percent of Filipinos have been completely inoculated with two jabs. Less than 21 million of nearly 24 million jabs have been administered.

The snail’s pace has forced the government to scale down its target from 70-percent herd immunity to only 50-percent “population protection” by this yearend.

The population reached 110 million last June, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported. Sixty two percent, or 68.2 million, are of voting age 18 and above. That includes 4.5 million new adults who turned 18 since 2019, the last election.

Inoculations so far have only been for Priority A sectors: frontline health care workers; the elderly aged 60 and above; those with comorbidities and essential government and private workers like soldiers, policemen and those in the food, power and water supplies, transport and telecommunications services.

It is yet unclear when mass inoculations can commence for those aged 59 and below.

The Comelec, NGOs and political parties are encouraging voters to register. But Comelec sign-up centers frequently close down due to region-, province- and city-wide lockdowns. Plans are to extend the Sept. 30 deadline to make up for the disruptions.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved eight vaccines for emergency use. All are experimental, however. Thus only the national government may procure, even if funds come from private firms or local government units.

The State may restrict movement for the un-vaccinated, Barzaga said. That’s to contain the coronavirus and to promote public health, under the Constitution’s “General Welfare” clause.

President Rody Duterte has said he cannot wait for a law to punish un-vaccinated Filipinos and for the police and barangay officials to curtail movements. Barzaga said presidential certification of his bill as urgent can speed up passage. Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said such a law is needed before non-vaccinees can be sanctioned.

Civil rights lawyers invoke free choice on whether to be inoculated and with what brand. They oppose compulsory injections, much more vaccination passports.

Vaccine skepticism spiked in the Philippines in 2017-2019 due to the Dengvaxia controversy. Lawmakers accused the past administration of spending P3.5 billion to inoculate 850,000 fourth-graders with two jabs each in 2016 against the dengue virus. The to-do began when French maker Sanofi Pasteur announced unguaranteed efficacy on those who have not yet contracted the disease. Fifty-six deaths were alleged due to the three-year-old inoculant. Former President Noynoy Aquino was made to defend himself in congressional hearings. Charges of graft and gross misconduct were recommended.

None of the COVID-19 vaccines are 15 months old. Real world studies began only after the global rollout in December 2020. The government has spent P50 billion to indent 89 million doses.

COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the Philippines was at 80 percent last year. It has since dropped to 60, then 50 percent. Experts forecast doubts to dissolve once more doses arrive from abroad and made easily accessible. Realization that adverse effects are minimal convinced people to have jabs. Fear of death due to more virulent variants also trumps fear of injection.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM). “Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine Government” is available as e-book and paperback. Get a free copy of “Chapter 1: Beijing’s Bullying and Duplicity”. Simply subscribe to my newsletter at: https://jariusbondoc.com/#subscribe. Book orders also accepted there.

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