Senators score Roque’s vaccine remark, say it could cause ‘aversion’ to vaccination
MANILA, Philippines — More senators on Tuesday scored presidential spokesperson Harry Roque over his remarks that Filipinos cannot choose which COVID-19 vaccine brand they will receive from the government, with one lawmaker saying that such comments would cause “aversion” to the inoculation.
“As a natural human reaction, it will trigger such aversion to the vaccination,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said in a message to reporters when sought for comment on Roque’s pronouncement.
During a press briefing on Monday, Roque said the Filipino public could not afford to be “picky” with the COVID-19 vaccines citing the large number of Filipinos who need to be vaccinated against the disease.
Roque had also said that those on the priority list could opt out, but they would have to sign a waiver indicating that they passed up on the vaccine. So along with the rest of the public, they would just have to wait for other vaccines to become available.
But Senator Joel Villanueva said the government should be raising the public’s confidence in the nationwide COVID-19 vaccination plan in light of a recent survey which revealed that nearly half of Filipinos are apprehensive to be inoculated due to safety concerns.
“Given this, our government should be working on building confidence in the vaccine program, instead on toying around with their announcements at the risk of increasing people’s aversion to the vaccine. Likewise, regulations are instituted precisely to protect the lives of our people. It should be followed to the letter,” Villanueva said in a statement.
“Let us not reduce the discussion of vaccination into a petty argument because it’s not as simple as picking one basketball team over another,” he added.
He also advised government officials to be “more circumspect” with words “because people’s lives are at stake here.”
‘Public has right to choose’
Senator Leila de Lima also scored Roque for his remarks, stressing that Filipinos have the right to choose which vaccine they want to be inoculated with.
“Sabihan ba naman ang taumbayan na bawal daw maging pihikan? Aba, terible! Hindi PSG (Presidential Security Group) ang taumbayan para pilitin at utusan tanggapin ang bakuna na wala silang tiwala. Napakarami namang ibang bakuna na puwede pagpilian na mas mura at mas epektibo,” De Lima said.
(How dare he tell Filipinos not to be picky. That’s terrible! The public is not the PSG who can just be forced and ordered to accept just any vaccine. There are other vaccines that are more affordable and more effective.)
The Philippines has earlier secured 25 million doses of vaccines from China’s Sinovac, a portion of which are expected to be delivered next month.
“Anong akala niyo sa buhay ng mga Pilipino, pwede niyong paglaruan? Pasalamat na lang kami na mayroong bakuna kaysa wala?…The public has the right to choose which vaccine they would be willing to take so they would know which side effects they would also be saying yes to. Akala ko ba human rights lawyer ka?” she added, referring to Roque.
(Do you think you can play with the lives of the Filipino people? That we should be thankful that at least there’s an available vaccine?…The public has the right to choose which vaccine they would be willing to take so they would know which side effects they would also be saying yes to. I thought you’re a human rights lawyer?)
Filipinos “are not asking for too much,” De Lima told the presidential spokesperson.
She said Filipinos should be allowed to say no to an anti-COVID shot which they find questionable as “news reports keep surfacing about the adverse effects of some vaccines.”
“Ang hiling nila ay ang karapatang humindi sa mga kwestyonableng bakuna na maari niyong aprubahan mula sa Tsina o Russia! Masisisi ba natin ang ating mga kababayan kung nag-aalangan sila tanggapin ang bakuna galing China?!” the senator said.
(The Filipino public wants to have the right to say not to a questionable vaccine that you may approve from China and Russia! Can we blame them if they are not convinced with a vaccine from China?)
She pointed out that even Davao City, the mayor of which is the President’s daughter, as well as other local government units (LGUs) opted to purchase the vaccines of UK drugmaker AstraZeneca and not the ones developed in China.
“Ang mga LGU natin, kasama Davao City, hindi bakunang galing sa China ang kinuha, bakit natin ito ipipilit sa mga kababayan natin? If they believe so much in that vaccine, they should be the one to take it and give our people the opportunity to use the other brands,” De Lima said.
(Our LGUs, including Davao City, did not procure vaccines from China, why will we force it to be used? If they believe so much in that vaccine, they should be the one to take it and give our people the opportunity to use the other brands.)
“Si Roque pa talaga ang may lakas ang loob sabihin na wag colonial mentality sa pagpili ng bakuna pero sila naman ang nakasunod lagi sa amo nilang China. Exhibit A: Sinovac!” she added.
(Roque has the guts to say to the public not to have a colonial mentality when they are following their boss who is leaning to China. Exhibit A: Sinovac.)
“Our people deserve no less than a safe, effective, affordable and corruption-free vaccine. Nothing more, nothing less!” she further said.
Senator Grace Poe, for her part, agreed with other senators in saying that Filipinos “have every right to choose which vaccine to take” given that taxpayers’ money will be spent for the government’s procurement of vaccines.
“Rich or poor, everyone should have access to a vaccine that is safe and effective. Making the people trust science requires transparency of the process and openness to questions to allay their apprehensions and allow them to make informed choices,” she said.
The senator also echoed previous sentiments of some lawmakers on whether Sinovac is being favored by the government.
“Why is Sinovac being favored when it only has 50-percent efficacy and the least transparency? Who are they trying to favor or appease?” Poe asked.
She then called on the government to make public the list of persons to be vaccinated and to work with LGUs to ensure that the vulnerable and disadvantaged sectors get the first shots of the vaccine.
Roque’s remark ‘not fair’
Senator Panfilo Lacson shared the same views as his colleagues in the Senate.
“It’s not fair to say that Filipinos cannot choose their vaccines, at least from those made available by the government,” Lacson said in a separate statement.
“It’s bad enough that the national government virtually controls which brand/s of vaccines to procure. Pati ba naman ang pagpili kung ano ituturok sa braso ng mga Pilipino, hindi pa rin pwede mamili ang Pilipino?” he added.
(It’s bad enough that the national government virtually controls which brand/s of vaccines to procure. Now Filipinos can’t even choose the brand of vaccine they will be inoculated with?)
He also questioned the government’s deal with China’s Sinovac for 25 million doses of vaccines when the company has yet to apply for an emergency use authorization with Philippine regulators.
Nevertheless, Lacson expressed hopes that the country’s COVID-19 task force would be able to properly implement the vaccination plan they laid out during Monday’s Senate hearing on the national inoculation program.
“While the plan may sound good, the difference is in the implementation – the reaction and responses to emergencies. Without proper execution, a plan no matter how good it is written and presented, won’t mean anything,” he said.
Aside from Sinovac, the Philippine government has also so far secured 2.6 million doses of coronavirus vaccines from British drugmaker AstraZeneca and 30 million doses of Indian-made Covovax vaccine.
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