Duque urges PAO chief Acosta to get COVID-19 vaccine

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 20) — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Thursday appealed to Public Attorney's Office chief Persida Acosta to immediately get vaccinated against COVID-19.

He said Acosta, a prominent figure during the controversy surrounding the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine, needs to get vaccinated as soon as possible considering her age and comorbidities—two factors put a person more at risk of hospitalization.

"Ako'y nananawagan kay PAO Chief Acosta na, dahil palagay ko ay malapit na din siyang maging senior citizen, ay dapat ay mabigyan siya ng karagdagang proteksyon sa pamamagitan ng bakuna," he said during a vaccination event. "Para sa akin, dapat siguro mas maging bukas ang pagiisip ni PAO Chief Acosta na suportahan niya ang bakuna."

[Translation: I am appealing to PAO Chief Acosta, I think she is almost a senior citizen, she should get additional protection from vaccines. For me she should be more open to supporting vaccines.]

Last week, Acosta admitted to being unvaccinated. She said she is having second thoughts and she is waiting for a protein-based vaccine.

Duque, however, did not agree with Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon's sentiment that Acosta's refusal to get the shots is a "slap on the face" of the government and undermines its COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also responded to the call of Drilon to bar Acosta from reporting to work until she gets vaccinated against COVID-19.

He reiterated that onsite workers have to be vaccinated. If not, they should shoulder the cost of COVID-19 tests to be done every two weeks.

"I already advised PAO chief Acosta to comply with existing government regulations regarding onsite work as it relates to unvaccinated personnel, and to ensure a COVID-safe working environment in her agency without sacrificing efficiency," he said on Thursday.

Acosta and PAO have been drawing flak since 2018 for allegedly spreading misinformation on the effects of Dengvaxia.

She had prosecuted some former and current government officials — including Duque — after some children who received Dengvaxia from 2016 to 2017 fell ill or died. Her group of forensic personnel claimed the dengue vaccine caused the death of the children, but the Health Department already disputed this and said there's no solid proof to link Dengvaxia to the fatalities.

Acosta's pronouncements later led to a decline in public vaccine confidence, resulting in a spike in disease outbreaks such as measles and polio.

CNN Philippines' Lara Tan and Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.