By Karen Lema
MANILA (Reuters) – According to a rumor circulating in the Philippines, the coronavirus vaccine will allow President Rodrigo Duterte to kill people at the push of a button.
Elsewhere in the country of 108 million people, memories of a dengue vaccine that has been banned locally deter people from getting the vaccine even before the campaign begins.
“Many children have fallen ill after receiving this vaccine,” said Crisanta Alipio, 62, of the ill-fated vaccine against dengue, a mosquito-borne disease that can be fatal.
She said she was afraid of the new coronavirus but even more afraid of the vaccination.
The Philippines is not expected to start vaccinations until next month despite the second-worst coronavirus outbreak in Southeast Asia with more than half a million infections and more than 10,000 deaths.
But officials admit they are struggling to convince many to take it, in addition to the logistical difficulties of reaching 2,000 inhabited islands with a precarious health system in the Southeast Asian archipelago.
“The message needs to be very concrete and evidence-based to encourage people to receive the vaccines,” Health Ministry Under Secretary Rosario Vergeire told Reuters.
“We assure Filipinos that all vaccines that will be imported and supplied will go through a strict regulatory process.”
(Graph: Routine immunization coverage in the Philippines, 2015-2020 – https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/azgvolyzjpd/chart.png)
FEAR OF DENVGAXIA
Confidence in vaccines has been shaken by the controversy over Dengvaxia from French company Sanofi.
Rapidly deployed in 2016 to more than 800,000 children to protect them from dengue fever – it was banned after its manufacturer said it could make the disease worse in people who had not previously been exposed to the infection .
This has led to two congressional inquiries and more than 100 criminal cases that have linked child deaths to anti-dengue shooting – although such links have never been proven.
Sanofi has repeatedly stated that Dengvaxia is safe and effective and that the vaccine has been approved for use by the United States and the European Union.
After this episode, the Philippines fell from one of the top 10 countries for vaccine confidence to no more than 70th place. The number of children fully immunized increased from 85% in 2010 to 69% in 2019.
To address fears, health workers would organize town halls and online meetings and receive special training on how to answer questions, Carlito Galvez, a former army general who led the anti-government campaign, told the Senate. COVID-19.
The goal is to vaccinate 70 million adults this year.
Duterte spokesman Harry Roque shared a virtual scene with pulmonologist Dr Charles Yu on Thursday during a press briefing to counter vaccine doubts and urge the public to listen only to medical experts during the pandemic.
Roque said he would regularly invite medical experts such as Dr Yu to his briefings to educate the public and increase confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine.
In parts of the southern Philippines, the big fear is a state-sponsored death campaign – not completely far-fetched in a country where Duterte’s war on drugs has claimed nearly 6,000,000 lives since he took office in 2016.
The remote regions of the south are the scene of both communist and Islamist insurgencies.
Some of the information shared on Facebook and SMS indicates that the COVID-19 vaccine contained a microchip that can be controlled remotely by President Duterte, and once he presses a button, the person who received the vaccine will die, “said Nasser Alimoda, a government doctor in Lanao del Sur province.
There are concerns everywhere about which specific vaccines the Philippines plans to use as well, especially about the vaccine from Chinese company Sinovac Biotech, which a study showed to be just over 50% effective, although another gave him over 91%.
The public should not fear China’s COVID-19 vaccines, Dr Yu said, because they are based on inactivated virus particles, a method that “has been proven to be safe.”
A public opinion poll showed that less than a third of Filipinos were ready to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“Vaccination programs will be wasted if people refuse to be vaccinated,” former health minister Esperanza Cabral told Reuters.
Apasrah Mapupuno, head of the Lanao del Sur government health team, said she had asked dozens of health workers and others if they were getting their sleeves up for a COVID-19 vaccine.
No one said “yes”.
“That’s the big deal,” Mapupuno said. “How can health workers convince the community to get vaccinated if they are not themselves sold on COVID-19 vaccines? “
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Matthew Tostevin, Robert Birsel and Tom Hogue)