A job for health workers, not politicians or lawyers
MANILA, Philippines — When it comes to convincing people to be vaccinated against COVID-19, it is as much about the message as it is about the messenger, according to former health secretary Esperanza Cabral.
And that is the reason why health workers and not politicians or lawyers should lead the efforts to convince people to take the shot against COVID-19, Cabral said.
“I think that our health-care providers should be playing a major role in the information campaign because they are the ones most trusted by the people when they deliver health information. So I think they will believe the health-care providers more than they will believe politicians, for example, or [lawyers],” Cabral said at a news briefing in Malacañang on Thursday.
‘Massive trust campaign’
The government’s preparations for the vaccination drive are good, but there must first be a “massive information campaign and massive trust campaign so that our people will have confidence that it is better to be vaccinated than not to be vaccinated,” she said.
“Vaccine confidence is not only an issue of accurate and timely information, but [also] of trust in the information giver,” she added.
A survey in the United States showed that people’s most trusted informant is their own doctor, followed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, their local public health department, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Cabral said she believed the situation was the same in the Philippines, and the government should take note of it when it launched its information campaign for COVID-19 vaccination.
She cited recent surveys that showed only about a third of Filipinos were willing to be vaccinated and that people harbored various concerns about the vaccine.
According to Cabral, vaccine confidence in the country fell in 2018 amid the Dengvaxia controversy, when the dengue vaccine was blamed for the deaths of some children.
One way to deal with the scare is to tell the people that Dengvaxia has gone through more studies than the COVID-19 vaccines, she said.
Dengvaxia doesn’t cause deaths
It is not true that Dengvaxia causes deaths, she said, adding that it will actually help protect people from contracting dengue.
She noted that the Philippines is the only country that is not using Dengvaxia.
“The issues were just really sensationalized, many false [reports] came out about scientists, about regulators, about authorities. They saw a lot of inquisitionlike hearings in the Senate, in the House of Representatives, where the scientists were really disrespected and people lost confidence in them,” she said.
But people can see now that we have nothing to depend on but science, she added.
Cabral called on those who had derided vaccines to come forward to help build public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.
“The people who were contributors in bringing down vaccine confidence are also [the] people who could revive this confidence. We are calling on them to help, to come out in public to say that all of us must get the COVID vaccine if this is something indicated for us so that we can recover our economy, so that we can all stay healthy,” she said.
Rollout this month
The government plans to roll out COVID-19 vaccines starting this month, with the first batch of Pfizer shots from the global vaccine sharing scheme COVAX and with front-line health staff in four COVID-19 referral hospitals in Metro Manila as the first recipients.
The FDA has granted emergency use authorization to the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines. It is reviewing the applications for authorization of Bharat Biotech of India, Gamaleya Research Institute of Russia, and Sinovac Biotech of China.
Science Secretary Fortunato de la Peña on Thursday said the Phase 3 clinical trial of the COVID-19 vaccine of Belgium’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals was expected to begin this week and trials for the vaccines of Sinovac and Clover Pharmaceuticals, also of China, may begin later this month or in March.
Saying he was bound by confidentiality agreements, De la Peña did not name the trial sites.
With more than half a million confirmed cases and over 10,000 deaths, the Philippines is one of the countries in Asia hardest hit by the new coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday, the Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,590 new coronavirus infections, bringing the overall number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country to 531,699.
The DOH said 249 more patients had recovered, raising the total number of COVID-19 survivors to 487,927. The death toll, however, climbed to 10,997, as 55 other patients had succumbed to the severe respiratory disease.
The deaths and recoveries left the country with 32,775 active cases, of which 88.9 percent were mild, 5.9 percent asymptomatic, 0.53 percent moderate, 2.3 percent severe, and 2.4 percent critical. With a report from Patricia Denise M. Chiu
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