Senators cry foul over Roque’s remark Filipinos can't be choosy with COVID-19 vaccine brand

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 12) – Some senators criticized Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque's remark that Filipinos cannot afford to be "picky" with the COVID-19 vaccine brand that they will receive from the government.

During the Senate hearing on the national COVID-19 vaccination plan on Monday, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri described Roque's pronouncement as unfair.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros also questioned why Filipinos can't choose a COVID-19 vaccine brand when President Rodrigo Duterte himself is choosing between the vaccines made in China and Russia.

"It seems the message the Palace is sending to us is 'conform or get COVID-19'. Malacañang must put an end to its threatening statements and stop ramming vaccine preferences down the public's throat," said Hontiveros.

Sen. Franklin Drilon stressed Roque's statement will trigger "such aversion to vaccination" which will not be good in the country's vaccination program, while Sen. Kiko Pangilinan noted that Roque's insensitive comment "aggravates the already tenuous public mood against vaccination as a whole."

In a separate interview with CNN Philippines on Wednesday, Pangilinan said that such remarks do not help in assuring Filipinos of vaccines’ safety, noting that the public has the right to choose which product they would use in the future.

“I think they should be able to [choose a vaccine], up to a certain extent, they have the right, Pangilinan told The Source.

“So dapat ayusin nila ‘yung kanilang communications, dahil hindi nakakatulong ‘yung ganoong klaseng take it or leave it, bahala kayo, dahil libre. It doesn’t help, unfortunately,” he added.

[Translation: They should fix their communications, because this type of take it or leave it remark won’t help.]

Sen. Leila de Lima, in a statement she issued from jail in Camp Crame, insisted the Filipinos are not asking for too much, but their right to choose must be respected so they would know the side effects of such immunizations. She added that even Davao City, the hometown of Duterte, did not procure the China-made Sinovac vaccine which the national government said will be the first to be administered to priority sectors by February.

"Do we have to blame our countrymen who are having second thoughts on getting inoculated with vaccine made from China? Certainly not when news reports keep surfacing about the adverse effects of some vaccines," said de Lima in the written statement.

Instead of endorsing one COVID-19 vaccine brand, Sen. Panfilo Lacson urged the national government to prioritize high efficacy vaccines. He explained this will help build Filipinos' confidence in getting vaccinated.

"Cockiness has no place in a pandemic situation. Certainly this is not a smart information campaign to promote mass vaccination," said Lacson.

Sen. Joel Villanueva shared Lacson's sentiment on raising public confidence to get vaccinated amid the recent survey where nearly half of Filipinos are apprehensive.

"Our government should be working on building confidence in the vaccine program, instead on toying around with their announcements at the risk of increasing people's aversion to the vaccine. Likewise, regulations are instituted precisely to protect the lives of our people," said Villanueva.

In an interview with CNN Philippines' The Final Word on Tuesday, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said the national government must ensure there is enough supply of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines that should be administered immediately to priority sectors such as medical frontliners.

Gatchalian also declared he is okay to receive any COVID-19 vaccine brand as long as it passes Philippine Food and Drug Administration standards.

"As long as it is approved by FDA and passed their standards, I'm okay to be inoculated with any brand," he said.

Roque said in a briefing Monday that Filipinos will not be forced to get vaccinated against the COVID-19, but they cannot be "picky" once doses become available in the country.

Numerous local government units have announced they already secured deals to acquire hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses for their constituents. Majority of the local chief executives said they have sealed tripartite agreements with the national government for doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines, which has an efficacy rate of up to 90% for those who received a half dose followed by a full dose.

READ: LIST: Local governments secure vaccine doses in advance