‘Never about colonial mentality’: Netizens rip Roque for crass vaccine remark
MANILA, Philippines — “Is it considered colonial mentality for wanting a more effective vaccine?”
Netizens asked different versions of this question as they did not take lightly the recent statement of presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, who finds himself under fire for associating scrutiny of COVID-19 vaccine deals with “colonial mentality.”
Roque dropped the remark in his Monday press briefing as he explained that the coronavirus vaccine developed by American pharmaceutical firm Pfizer required cold-chain storage facilities, which he said only “major cities” have.
“Sa mga mayroong colonial mentality na gustong Pfizer, pwede po kayong maghintay, pero ang ating warning po eh talaga diyan lang po iyan mabibigay sa mga major na siyudad,” he said.
'SA MGA MAYROONG COLONIAL MENTALITY'
Palace spokesperson Harry Roque takes a jab at those who prefer the COVID-19 vaccine of American pharmaceutical firm Pfizer.
— Inquirer (@inquirerdotnet) January 11, 2021
Netizens clap back
But those who have expressed skepticism over the national government’s apparent preference for the shots developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech are not having any of Roque’s deceptive charge.
The shots developed by Sinovac comes with a higher price tag despite a relatively lower efficacy rate. Nonetheless, the Philippine government has struck a deal with the Chinese biopharmaceutical firm for 25 million doses of its COVID-19 serum, a part of which is expected to arrive in February.
“I love it when my desire for a safe, effective, and affordable vaccine that utilizes groundbreaking technology is dismissed as colonial mentality,” a Twitter user said.
While acknowledging the people’s right to health, Roque said Filipinos cannot be “picky” with COVID-19 vaccines when a large number of Filipinos need to be inoculated.
“[M]eron tayong lahat na karapatan para sa mabuting kalusugan, pero hindi naman po pwede na pihikan dahil napakaraming Pilipino na dapat turukan,” Roque said.
(It is true that we all have the right to good health, but we cannot afford to be picky because many Filipinos need to be vaccinated.)
The online community, too, has raised its voice against Roque’s pronouncement, saying the government should consider the fact that manufacturers have proven higher efficacy rates for their COVID-19 vaccines.
“To me, any procurement from Sinovac must be treated, first and foremost, as a public finance issue: why should they get our money when there are others? Why pay for a poor-quality product, much less use it on Filipinos?” netizen Thomas Benjamin Roca said.
“I personally will not trust a manufacturer that says they have a product that is 50 percent effective, when there are alternatives with a much higher efficacy rate. We will just be throwing away money,” he added.
The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) previously said the 50 percent efficacy of Sinovac’s vaccine is “acceptable” as it is within the World Health Organization’s minimum requirement, much to the ire of some lawmakers.
Monfred Sy, a University of the Philippines Diliman professor, also had strong words for Roque. “‘Colonial mentality’ — cried an inutile government that relied on the vaccine of imperialist countries instead of developing its own,” he tweeted.
In his speech last Dec. 26, President Rodrigo Duterte asked Health Secretary Francisco Duque III if the country’s premier state university and other government agencies are “working to find a vaccine.”
But it is worth noting that no administration has given full priority to scientific research in the Philippines. In August last year, the DOST admitted the country does not have the means to develop a vaccine.
Tale of two vaccines
The national government’s decision to acquire a large quantity of Sinovac’s vaccine, green-lit by the Duque-led Department of Health, differs from the recent wave of local government units that have secured deals instead with British drugmaker AstraZeneca.
Here's a list of local government units with signed COVID-19 vaccine supply deal with AstraZeneca as of January 12, 2021.
— Inquirer (@inquirerdotnet) January 12, 2021
While the Philippine government signed a tripartite agreement with the UK-based drug firm in November last year, it is the private sector shouldering the acquisition costs of that deal.
In his Twitter account, Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto explained that he and other city leaders preferred AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine because of its relatively cheaper price and easier storage requirements.
While Sinovac’s vaccine costs P3,629.50 for two doses and offers a 50 percent efficacy rate, other brands like Pfizer and AstraZeneca record higher efficacy rates for relatively cheaper prices.
How much will COVID-19 vaccines cost?
Here's a list of the estimated prices of eyed COVID-19 vaccines for distribution in the Philippines. pic.twitter.com/WGVnIlyJNp
— Inquirer (@inquirerdotnet) December 15, 2020
In addition, a Washington Post report published Dec. 4, 2020, uncovered a history of bribery by the Beijing-based firm, an issue that has cast doubts over its vaccine’s safety.
Even senators questioned the national government’s move to secure a deal with Sinovac when it is yet to apply for emergency use authorization (EUA) with the local Food and Drug Administration.
“Kung EUA lang din naman ‘yung ating standard, dapat may equal application ng national government, hindi ‘yung merong hindi pa naga-apply sa EUA e may naka-park nang kontrata,” Senator Risa Hontiveros said Monday.
Why it matters
Issues surrounding the country’s mass vaccination scheme need to be addressed early, as the government faces a constituency that grows more hesitant about the program due to a lack of science education and institutional confidence.
A recent Pulse Asia survey found that 47 percent or nearly half of Filipinos refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 even if it is free of charge, as 32 percent expressed willingness to be inoculated while the remaining 21 percent were undecided.
Public trust in vaccines took a dive after the Dengvaxia controversy, which the current administration is yet to rectify. A 2020 study by non-profit organization First Draft found that the overall discussion on Dengvaxia was plagued with various misinformation, centered on “a highly emotional, politicized narrative.”
Vice President Leni Robredo previously stressed the need to strengthen the people’s confidence in getting vaccinated against COVID-19, saying such issues only hurt the government’s campaign for mass inoculation.
If things go as planned, the Philippines will soon join countries that have launched mass vaccination programs just as the world braces for a new wave of the pandemic amid the emergence of new variants of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, which has so far infected over 90 million worldwide.
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