Vaccine hopes and fears in the Philippines

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Vaccine hopes and fears in the Philippines

Iris Gonzales writes about some of the reasons why giving people the vaccine in her country is so slow. p7_illus_1.jpg

Credit: Sarah John

Jomel Sarmiento can’t wait for his vaccination against Covid-19. He is 25 years old and he has a mobile-phone and watch repair shop. But he is not hopeful. He is in the lowest-priority group – ‘other workers’. He thinks he could wait until the second half of 2022 before he gets a vaccination.

‘I am not an essential worker, so I just have to wait,’ he says.

Jomel’s biggest fear, after the virus itself, is that when he can have a vaccination, it may not be free.

Priority groups are senior citizens and people with serious medical conditions. If you are not in a priority group, the chance of getting a vaccine in the Philippines is like winning the lottery. It is only for a few lucky people. The rich seem to have no problem, like the military, the police, and essential workers – such as workers in grocery stores and pharmacies.

It all seems easy enough. You just need to register with your local government unit (LGU) with an app on your mobile phone or laptop. But if you are poor with no internet or no smartphone, registering is a big problem.

Nida Mateo lives in a slum community in the city. She nearly gave up hope. She works for herself as a seamstress and she is a mother of two. Her income almost stopped with the pandemic in 2020, with not very many clients bringing her work. She was worried about the bigger risk from Covid-19 for her, as she is overweight. She had no internet and did not know how to use technology. She said she wouldn’t know how to download the app.

Many of her neighbours are in the same situation with no internet.

Fortunately, the daughter of one of Nida’s friends knows about technology and she offered to register her on the LGU’s vaccine platform. Nida’s weight helped her for once; it was why she got a vaccination. In June 2021, she was very happy to receive her second Sinovac vaccination in the basketball court of a private school.

Nida is thankful to the government for free vaccines but she is unhappy about how difficult it is for people like her with no technology. But there is another problem the government can't control. Nida says some of her neighbours do not want a vaccination. Not wanting the vaccine (vaccine scepticism) is one of the problems for some LGUs, especially in the provinces.

It goes back to a health problem in 2017 with the Dengvaxia vaccine against dengue fever. In 2016, the World Health Organization cleared the vaccination, and the Philippine Department of Health gave it to schoolchildren. But the programme stopped when Sanofi Pasteur, the maker of the vaccine, advised the government that it could increase the risk of serious illness for some people. Fears of vaccines have been there since then.

Our president, Rodrigo Duterte, has threatened people with jail if they refuse the vaccination. And it is true that the Philippines has had one of Asia’s worst outbreaks of Covid-19.

Even my parents, both 74 years old, don’t want a vaccination. They are from a generation preferring traditional medicine and they think the vaccines could have a negative effect on their ageing bodies. And so they take coconut oil and ginger tea every morning as they think it will stop Covid. I can’t convince them to get vaccinated.

We will need to wait to see when the Philippines will finally have herd immunity. But the difficulty with registration and vaccine scepticism don't help.


(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)