Political opposition blamed for fueling COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

A Palace official has blamed the opposition forces for allegedly sowing fear in the coronavirus vaccination that threatens to derail the government's efforts to reach herd immunity.

A Manila resident gets a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine during an inoculation program in Tondo on June 20, 2012. (Ali Vicoy/ Manila Bulletin

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo acknowledged that many Filipinos were still reluctant to get vaccinated against the coronavirus mainly due to the doubts spread by the administration's rivals.

Panelo made the statement after defending President Duterte's recent threat to arrest people who refuse to get vaccinated in a bid to protect the larger populace from potential carriers of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The President's remarks, he claimed, had a constitutional basis, citing the government's duty to serve and protect the people.

"The claim that vaccine hesitancy is not the problem is erroneous. Just last month, an independent pollster released a survey result showing that only 32% of adult Filipinos are willing to receive the vaccine for free even as the supply of vaccines in the country are continuously improving," he said in a statement Wednesday, June 23.

"It is not the government which instills fear among our citizens. It is the political opposition and some progressive groups that have caused agitation and doubt in the minds of our people as to the benefits of being inoculated against the fatal pathogen," he added.

Panelo explained that the government's pandemic response remained "fact, science-based." "We are backed by an array of health experts in our campaign to reach herd immunity through mass vaccination," he added.

As the country's cases soared to more than 1.3 million, Panelo said the danger of COVID infection posed a grave threat to the health and life of the people. Given such threat, he said the government has the "utmost responsibility to address it with proportional urgency."

More than 2 million Filipinos have completed their two-dose vaccination since the government started the inoculation campaign last March. The government aims to inoculate 58 million to 70 million adult Filipinos in a bid to reach herd immunity before the end of the year.

In a televised address Monday, June 21, the President urged people to get vaccinated to avoid getting arrested as he warned about the threat posed by the highly contagious Delta coronavirus variant. Anti-vaxxers could either leave the country or end up in jail and get injected with an antiparasitic drug for hogs, the tough-talking leader warned.