Losing the right to know and other perils from vaccine brand non-disclosure

JEERS TO the media for letting public officials dominate the conversation on the DOH and DILG directive prohibiting the LGUs from announcing the vaccine brands available at inoculation centers. The coverage resorted to quoting the reactions of a handful of national and local officials who were in agreement with, or opposed to the decision. Unfortunately, whatever the officials had to say did not provide the necessary discussion of the problems raised by the directive. 

The surge of residents in vaccine centers providing Pfizer shots prompted the DOH ruling of non-disclosure on May 19. DILG’s order issued May 20 instructed LGUs to provide brand information only when individuals show up on-site for their shots. If they refuse the vaccine available, they will get their shots only when their preferred brand becomes available. 

Media quoted the different views expressed by government officials about the measure, none of whom were physicians or health professionals. No other experts were cited. 

But cheers to the report of InterAksyon which picked up tweets from members of the medical community who raised valid concerns: the right of individuals to be fully apprised of the vaccine they would be injected with, increased vaccine hesitancy due to insufficient knowledge, unnecessary exposure to COVID-19 for individuals who might only end up refusing, and the need to establish more efficient registration systems and crowd control in vaccination sites. 

An Inquirer editorial echoed these points, observing that the government devotes more resources to the anti-insurgency campaign than to information awareness about the pandemic.

With government failing to do so, media must take a more proactive role to raise awareness about the vaccines and their choices, to help them make informed decisions for their protection, including waiting for the vaccine of their choice. For journalists to do this, they need to be alert enough to spot bad policies and refer to sources with sound solutions. 

Brand preference was primed by the IATF itself when it proudly announced that it would bring in Pfizer and AstraZeneca in February. Those who wanted to be vaccinated read up on the brands and were thus disappointed when through most of March and April, only China-manufactured Sinovac was available. President Duterte did not help either. He had declared his dislike for vaccines manufactured in the West but preferred another China-made vaccine for himself. It was not Sinovac.