‘No one is safe until everyone is safe’: Experts, advocates reiterate need to get vaccinated

Published June 8, 2021, 4:05 PM

by Merlina Hernando-Malipot

While most Filipinos are getting tired of living with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) over a year into quarantine, a significant portion of the population remains hesitant to get vaccinated.

This hesitancy, according to experts and various studies, stems from concerns on the safety of vaccines and its efficacy – among others.

Recognizing the need to further intensify awareness on getting vaccinated against COVID-19, the Philippine Alliance of Patient Organizations (PAPO) on Tuesday, June 8, spearheaded the launch of the “Bakuna, Now Na” campaign.

“We see vaccines as the first step to get our lives back,” PAPO said. “But with the public’s hesitancy on vaccines, there is a need to assure the public of its safety and importance,” it added.

In a virtual media launch, PAPO invited resource speakers who underscored the importance of advocating awareness campaigns to ensure that more people will be encouraged to get inoculated.

Among the speakers were Dr. Nina Gloriani, the chairman of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST)’s Vaccine Expert Panel and Dr. Beverly Ho, the director of the Health Promotions Bureau and the Disease Prevention and Control Bureau of the Department of Health (DOH).

Other speakers were Hemophilia Philippine Foundation, Inc. President Rey Sarmenta and Neurofibromatosis Friend Philippines President Ara Lanorio who shared their inputs coming from the point of view of patients.

Get the jab now!

Citing government data, Gloriani noted that over five million Filipinos have received at least the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

She added that more people are expected to get inoculated after the government confirmed that some 10 million doses will be made available in the coming weeks.

“We are very happy with this news but we all know also that there is much more to be desired in terms of vaccinating other very special groups, the A2 and A3 sectors,” Gloriani said, referring to senior citizens and persons with comorbidities, respectively.

“Today’s campaign is a welcome initiative that we wholeheartedly support,” Gloriani said.

“As we do so, we also urge everyone to support this unity call to achieve the level of population protection that we need in order to finally end this pandemic,” she added.

Ho also underscored the importance of getting the A2 and A3 segments to get vaccinated – noting that they are “part and parcel” of the overall goal to achieve herd immunity.

“If the A2 and A3 will continue not to get vaccinated, in the future, our ICUs and ERs will still be full because they are the most vulnerable population in our group,” Ho said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Vaccine hesitancy in the Philippines

Citing a study done by professor Heidi Larson of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicines, PAPO noted that vaccine confidence in the Philippines dropped to 32 percent in 2018 from 93 percent in 2015 after the Dengvaxia controversy.

PAPO noted that also in 2019, the DOH reported measles outbreaks in several provinces where there was an “eight-fold increase in the incidence of measles, a vaccine-preventable disease — a direct contrast to the global trend of decreasing rates of incidence of vaccine preventable diseases.”

In the context of COVID-19, PAPO noted “vaccine safety and efficacy” are main points of concern among Filipinos.

Citing a Pulse Asia survey done in March 2021, PAPO noted that 61 percent of Filipinos do not want to get the COVID-19 vaccine pointing out concerns in possible side effects. “The government has also reported that they have missed their targets for vaccinations for people with comorbidities,” PAPO added.

The safety of vaccines especially to people with comorbidities is another point of concern.

PAPO noted that people with underlying medical conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, lung disease, and diabetes are at “high risk” of getting severe complications when infected with COVID-19. Thus, it is recommended for people who fall under this category to get vaccinated “as long as their medical conditions are controlled.”

Given this, Karen Villanueva of PAPO expressed optimism that the newly-launched campaign will be able to encourage the public who are still having doubts on getting inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines.

“The campaign is more of an emotional appeal – we want to engage the patients by trying to catch their attention in a very subtle and friendly way,” Villanueva said. “Also, the beauty of this campaign is it also complements the ongoing efforts of the government,” she ended.