Why do some Filipinos prefer some vaccines over others?

Published May 17, 2022, 3:30 PM

by Manila Bulletin

Exploring influences behind vaccine preference

According to the latest data released by the government, more than 67 million Filipinos have completed their primary doses of Covid-19 vaccinations, with officials aiming to increase this number to 90 million people by the end of June. The country’s progress in the fight against Covid-19 can be attributed to a stable Covid-19 vaccine supply and an aggressive national vaccination drive led by the Inter-Agency Task Force against Covid-19 (IATF) and the Department of Health (DOH).

Despite the uptick in vaccinations, the problem of vaccine hesitancy remains to be addressed. While vaccine hesitancy has improved from 18 percent in September 2021 to eight percent in January 2022, the Department of Health (DOH) continues to cite hesitancy as the main reason why Filipinos are not receiving their booster doses. In my interview with Dr. Louella Orillaza, an associate professor whose area of research is health psychology and chairperson of the University of the Philippines Department of Psychology, she mentioned the uncertainties surrounding Covid-19 as a possible contributing factor driving vaccine hesitancy in the country. Alongside personal beliefs, the lack of information surrounding vaccines developed to protect against the virus may have led Filipinos to wait a little longer before deciding to get vaccinated or to choose not to get vaccinated at all.

Another important factor in the national conversation on vaccination is the prevalence of vaccine preference among Filipinos. Findings from a recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey revealed that 63 percent of Filipinos prefer vaccines from the United States such as mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna. This was cited by the national government as one of the most pressing concerns in the rollout of its vaccination program.

VAX TREND A health worker giving a shot of Covid-19 vaccine at the Manila city government mass inoculation.

Understanding Filipinos’ vaccine preferences

When asked about possible factors that could influence brand preference, Dr. Orillaza highlighted the following: information regarding a vaccine’s efficacy rates, brand trust, and the beliefs of other people, especially those close to the individual. These factors were also seen in an Ateneo De Manila University (ADMU) study where most respondents preferred to wait for other vaccines that are recognized across the globe.

Another study from the Ateneo Policy Center found that most Filipinos prefer pharmaceutical companies that have an “extensive history of successful medicine and vaccine development, which are also based in countries with solid regulatory institutions pushing the strictest standard.”

The SWS survey on vaccine preference also found that US mRNA vaccine brands are most preferred by all respondents and education levels in the country.

Recently, both Pfizer and Moderna announced that their booster shots can increase antibodies against the Omicron variant, offering additional protection against the virus.

mRNA vaccines, also known as Messenger RNA vaccines, teach the body’s cells how to make proteins that trigger immune responses from inside the body. The antibodies produced are the agents that protect people from getting infected by the virus. With mRNA vaccines, pharmaceutical companies can quickly create new vaccines to adapt and counter emerging variants against Covid-19.

While vaccine hesitancy has improved from 18 percent in September 2021 to eight percent in January 2022, the Department of Health (DOH) continues to cite hesitancy as the main reason why Filipinos are not receiving their booster doses.

Taking the first step to combat vaccine hesitancy

While there is no direct relationship between vaccine preference and hesitancy, we need to do our part to educate Filipinos about the most effective options available and strengthen our wall of protection against future variants or surges. Getting primed and boosted will be our first protection against the severe effects of Covid-19.

To help achieve vaccine confidence, Dr. Orillaza highlighted the importance of conducting targeted surveys to understand the motivations driving behavior before determining the next steps. Conversations surrounding the effectiveness of vaccines must also be broadened. By involving different sectors in addressing information gaps, prevalence of misinformation, or existing personal or religious beliefs, the expanded dialogue and exchange of ideas may lead to more effective communication, leading to an increased probability of vaccine acceptance.

Education remains the key to encouraging more Filipinos to get primed and boosted to protect themselves from the most severe effects of COVID-19.—Dr. Philip Nakpil

The author is the medical director of ZP Therapeutics.