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Mandatory or lazy?

House Bill No. 9252, filed by Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. that seeks to amend the Covid-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021 to make the inoculation of Filipinos “mandatory”, has met resistance from the Department of Health.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said people could not be compelled to take the shot since the available vaccines against Covid-19 were still in a “developmental stage”.

“It is the right of a person to decide on his own whether to receive the vaccine or not,” Vergeire said in response to the proposed bill.

While Barzaga has valid points in saying that vaccination should be given free at any government hospital or health center, and that mass vaccination is needed to achieve herd immunity, his proposed solution to the high vaccine hesitancy among Filipinos is lazy and fails to jive with the reality that the Philippines is still a free country the last time we checked.

If passed into law, individuals who have not been vaccinated would not be allowed to enter, convene, or occupy public places, whether government or privately-owned.

The Philippines’ problem with vaccine hesitancy is a recent one. The country, having enjoyed high levels of vaccination in the past, is proof that with the right information drive and implementation, Filipinos have been convinced to inoculate themselves and their children to achieve herd immunity and eliminate vaccine-preventable diseases. It is only when government turned a blind eye to the demonization and politicization of one vaccination program that the positive trend was unfortunately reversed and now we have lawmakers considering making Covid-19 vaccination mandatory as another kneejerk response to a complex issue.

The goal is to inoculate as many Filipinos as possible in order to achieve herd immunity from Covid-19. Right now, bulk of the vaccines needed are not yet available in the country and when they do arrive, government has to ensure that the infrastructure, network, personnel and resources to deploy its much-delayed vaccination program are also available. Aside from that, the issue of vaccine hesitancy among Filipinos has to be addressed.

Our government has its work cut out. It could be a blessing that the vaccines are not yet available as it gives us more time to prepare. Instead of working on laws forcing people to be inoculated, our government might want to spend some time on a massive information drive to convince as many Filipinos to do the right thing to inoculate themselves and their communities from Covid-19 and other vaccine-preventable diseases on their own free will.*

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