Metro Manila mayors mull policy to force booster shots
Metro Manila capital region mayors are considering imposing a policy that would force people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, the country says‘s head of health.
Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III told a televised Cabinet meeting on Tuesday evening that he had met with Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Romando S. Artes to discuss the policy, which he said has been watched since a large number of Filipinos have yet to receive a third dose.
The policy would be similar to mobility and entry restrictions imposed on those who are not vaccinated, he said.
“I spoke to the president of Metro Manila, Don Artes, and he said that he would call the mayors of the NCR (national capital region) and study if they could also do it with a booster dose since our coverage recall is still low,” said Mr. Duque.
The Metro Manila Council, consisting of the NCR‘s 17 mayors, governs and defines the policies to be implemented by the MMDA.
“We are only 25% of our eligible population of approximately 46.4 million people who are expected to receive the booster dose,” Duque said.
The Philippines, with a population of 109 million, has fully vaccinated 66.34 million people as of April 5, while 12.26 million people have received boosters, according to government data.
The NCR, which has a population of over 13.48 million, has one of the highest vaccination rates among regions in the country.
Duque, meanwhile, has called on Congress to pass a measure that would mandate vaccination against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), including the injection of booster shots.
The senators, however, mocked the health secretary‘s call on lawmakers to show “political will” passing such a law that critics have called discriminatory and potentially politically divisive.
“It’s his way of telling us about his problem,” Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III, a running mate, said in a Viber message to reporters on Wednesday.
“We have six days left (in plenary sessions),” he added, meaning there would be no time for a new measure, especially one that might be contentious, to go through the legislative process.
“We are turning into the National Council of Canvassers not to mention the human rights aspect.”
Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, Sr., who is running for President, said “there is no political will to violate the fundamental rights and freedoms that belong to everyone.”
Forcing a person to get vaccinated, he said, is a gross violation of human rights. Instead of “shifting the burden to Congress,” he called on the health department to be proactive in implementing door-to-door campaigns.
Meanwhile, Sen. Aquilino Martin “Koko” L. Pimentel III, who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Commerce and Entrepreneurship, Duque said.‘the suggestion was “not a valid idea” because it is unconstitutional.
“Since COVID-19 vaccines are still experimental, it is scientifically flawed to make them mandatory,” he said.
Mr. Pimentel also said he was “unethical and immoral” for the health chief to propose such legislation simply because a large number of vaccines are about to expire.
During the Cabinet meeting, President Rodrigo R. Duterte asked authorities to conduct a house-to-house COVID-19 vaccination program to use up the doses that are due to expire in the coming months.
“The vaccines are there and ready to go, just in case. Many Filipinos continue to refuse to be vaccinated,” he said. “Wala na tayong magagawa (We can‘nothing to do about it).”
“The best we can do, a last-minute program, is to embark on a program to deliver vaccines to homes (in the countryside)” he added.
Citing the country‘Pandemic Task Force Palace spokesman Jose Martin M. Andanar said Wednesday that most of the vaccine doses that will expire by July have either been donated by other countries or purchased by local governments and the private sector.
“An estimated 1.54% wastage rate among vaccines purchased by the national government was recorded,” Mr Andanar said at a regular press conference. “This rate is below the World Health Organization guideline rate of 10%.”
He said the Ministry of Health and the national COVID-19 task force are working with manufacturers “extend the shelf life of vaccines based on updated scientific data such as updated stability studies.”
Mr. Andanar said that the three main challenges facing the government‘s coronavirus vaccination program are low attendance during recent National Immunization Days, declining daily production and low coverage in the Bangsamoro region.
The Philippines, which remains at minimal risk from coronavirus, has seen four waves of COVID-19 since 2020. It reported the highest one-day tally on January 15 with 30,004.
Authorities have said the Philippines is ready if the new, highly infectious recombinant variant of COVID-19, dubbed XE, were to enter the country. — Kyle Aristopher T. Atienza and Alyssa Nicole O. Tan