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Senator, labor leader say addressing vaccine hesitancy should be scientific, not coercive

PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

THE GOVERNMENT should focus on information-based methods to address vaccine hesitancy, a senator said, rather than imposing coercive regulations.

“Since day one, the government’s so-called solution on issues surrounding vaccine hesitancy among Filipinos has been dependent on fear and coercion instead of concrete and scientific solutions,” opposition Senator Leila M. De Lima said in a statement Sunday.

She suggested an intensified information drive to educate people on the benefits of inoculation along with a campaign that would help build public trust on vaccines.

Presidential Spokesperson Herminio L. Roque, Jr. said Friday that beginning Dec. 1, employees from both public and private institutions in areas with enough vaccine supply will be required to get vaccinated against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

“They should not pass the responsibility to the workers,” national labour centre SENTRO Secretary-General Josua Mata told BusinessWorld via Viber call.

“It is their responsibility to explain, convince the people and provide the right vaccine. They have no right to impose yet again punitive measures to the workers that don’t want to accept the kind of vaccines they are providing,” he added in a mix of English and Filipino.

According to an OCTA Research survey cited by Ms. De Lima, 65% of 1,200 adult respondents are uncertain over COVID-19 vaccine safety while 14% are unsure of its effectivity.

Other reasons for vaccine hesitancy include pre-existing medical conditions, belief that it is not needed, fear of death, and fear of injections.

“I’ve said this before, if the government had given more attention to increasing the understanding and trust of the people to vaccines, it’s likely that the number of people rejecting vaccines would not have risen,” Ms. De Lima said in Filipino.

The attempts of the government to “simplify the solution” will not solve the problem, said Mr. Mata.

He added that vaccination in itself is not the means to ending the pandemic, since it is still necessary to observe other containment measures such as mass testing, effective contact tracing, isolation, and treatment.

“The best way to go about this is to patiently explain to people why it is important, the science of it,” he said.

Mr. Roque also said that “eligible employees who remain to be unvaccinated may not be terminated, but they shall be required to undergo regular RT-PCR testing, or antigen tests, at their own expense.”

For more than a year, workers have endured the loss of income and jobs, said Mr. Mata. Now, the government is making them vulnerable, yet again, to losing their jobs by requiring additional costs to their already limited earnings.

The policy is “inhumane” because minimum wage earners cannot afford the pricey costs of testing and will be forced to either lose their earnings or quit their jobs, he said.

Unemployment rose to 8.9% in September as bad weather left nearly 900,000 without work in the farm sector and strict lockdowns claimed over 340,000 factory jobs, based on data from the Philippine Statistics Authority.

This translated to 4.25 million unemployed Filipinos in September, up from 3.88 million in August. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan

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