President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday scolded Filipinos who are still hesitant in getting the COVID-19 vaccine and told them to “choose between living longer or drying early” while repeating his stand on making immunization mandatory, especially with the threat of the more virulent Omicron variant.
This was after Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano told the President that local government units (LGUs) have the authority to impose mandatory inoculation against COVID-19 and eliminate hesitancy and brand preference, based on the power granted them by the Local Government Code.
“So, while we cannot really impose mandatory laws because we don’t have laws, national law, but at least through Section 16 of the Local Government Code, a local chief executive can issue executive orders or ordinances that will protect his constituents. That is considered legal unless stopped by the court,” Año told Duterte during their meeting in Malacañang on Monday night.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health said Tuesday more than 2.5 million Filipinos were vaccinated against COVID-19 at the start Monday of the three-day "Bayanihan, Bakunahan" campaign, adding it received reports that some walk-ins failed to get inoculated.
Authorities on Monday administered 2,554,023 million COVID-19 shots, which is 2.5 times the daily average last week, said DOH Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje – but still short of their 3-million daily target for the campaign.
Cabotaje, who heads the National Vaccine Operations Center, said figures for Tuesday’s inoculations would be released today. The government aims to reach 9 million vaccinations for the three-day campaign.
This came as the Philippines logged on Tuesday 425 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 2,832,734. This figure is the lowest daily number of new infections since July 2, 2020, where 294 new cases were recorded.
It is also the seventh straight day the country registered less than 1,000 daily COVID-19 cases.
These new cases account for 2.1 percent of the 24,442 tests conducted— which is almost 10,000 lower than the tests conducted for results on Nov. 29, which were at 32,629.
The government is targeting to cover 9 million people during the vaccination drive that ends Wednesday, Dec. 1.
Out of the total doses administered on Monday, the biggest bulk of 366,000 were in Calabarzon.
Central Luzon, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, and Bicol region complete the top 5 regions with the biggest output, said Cabotaje, who chairs the National Vaccination Operations Center.
If more people voluntarily get inoculated against COVID-19, a new law that would compel vaccination might not be necessary, Malacañang said on Tuesday.
Cabinet Secretary and Acting Presidential Spokesperson Karlo Nograles made this remark after the President on Monday night said he favors mandatory COVID-19 vaccination.
During his regular televised Talk to the People, the 76-year-old Duterte warned that once the COVID 19 virus infected the body, it would spread and cause death to a person with the virus if he or she had not been vaccinated.
“I mean no offense, but for those who don’t want to get the vaccine, it's easy, you will not live longer if you want to die,” he said.
“‘If you get infected, there is nothing you can do, and when you go to the hospital, you will be intubated,” he said.
The President convened a meeting with an expert group advising the government on pandemic response amid the threat of COVID-19 Omicron variant, which was detected in several countries.
Unvaccinated individuals are more vulnerable, he said, recounting he hadn’t seen a time in his life in which many people he knew, friends and acquaintances, died after being infected by the coronavirus.
It is unfair for unvaccinated people not to be mindful of their status and expose others if they contract the virus, he said, stressing vaccination is a public health issue.
“It’s unfair. It’s actually to protect public health,” he said.
The President said he might agree with the Task Force if it decided to make immunization mandatory to protect public health.
The government, having ministerial functions, can issue measures that would protect public health, public safety, and public order, he said.
“In some countries, it's mandatory. But here, you have to deal with (the) Human Rights (body).”
And for those insisting not to get inoculated, Duterte advised them to stay home and avoid mingling with others in public places.
“There is no guarantee that you will not get contaminated again, that has been said by several experts,” Duterte added.
Among the challenges faced during the first day of the three-day drive was the failure of some LGUs to accommodate the large number of people who went to vaccination sites.
For the three-day nationwide vaccination drive, around 8,000 vaccination sites have been activated while 20,000 volunteers, including those from the uniformed service, have been tapped, according to vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. on Monday.
The vaccination drive covers the general population, minors aged 12-17 years old, and booster shots for healthcare workers, senior citizens, and immunocompromised.
The private sector also provided about 407 malls, institutions, gyms, and fast food chains to be used as vaccination sites.
Senate Health committee chairperson Sen. Christopher Go has renewed his call to all eligible Filipinos to get their free COVID-19 shots during the National Vaccination Days to help the government achieve its goal of inoculating an additional 9 million individuals across the country by the start of December.
For her part, Senator Grace Poe said a clear and up-to-date communication on vaccination information would be key to a successful inoculation campaign.
As of November 27, the government had administered over 81 million doses. Nearly 45.3 million individuals have received their first dose while 35.6 million Filipinos are fully vaccinated. Of the latter figure, a total of 174,536 have received their booster shots.
In line with these developments, President Duterte directed all local government units early in November to raise their weekly vaccination target to five million doses.
In the House of Representatives, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco reiterated his appeal to eligible Filipinos who remain unvaccinated to get a jab during the national COVID-19 vaccination drives to help prevent another pandemic surge, as families brace for holiday gatherings.
Velasco also said that concerns over the possible impact of the new COVID-19 variant called Omicron should prompt unvaccinated Filipinos to get their shots.
Meanwhile, members of the United Nations Country Team in the Philippines, led by Resident Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez, visited Cotabato City Tuesday to support the three-day National COVID-19 Vaccination Days campaign in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
BARMM is one of the six regions being prioritized in the government’s three-day national COVID-19 vaccination drive because of its low inoculation rate.
The Bangsamoro Region has been able to manage and contain the spread of COVID-19 virus. However, BARMM was still disproportionately impacted by the pandemic in terms of its socioeconomic development and in aggravating existing and emerging vulnerabilities in the region, according to a recent report by the UN Development Program.