By Daniel Llanto

The government on January 11 is poised to conduct a massive information campaign to promote the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, after surveys showed that a number of Filipinos are wary of receiving the vaccine.

Vice-president Leni Robredo earlier called for a clear communication plan.

This as the Philippine government signed an agreement to secure the supply of 30 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Serum Institute of India, which are expected to be available in the latter part of the year. This is the second vaccine supply agreement signed with vaccine manufacturers.

During the Senate hearing on the national COVID-19 vaccination program, Health Sec. Francisco Duque III said they will engage in a “massive social marketing campaign” to raise public confidence in vaccines.

Duque said this follows dismal survey results on the lack of public confidence in getting vaccine against the coronavirus.

In a Social Weather Stations survey, it was shown that nine out of every 10 Filipinos are worried about contracting COVID-19 nearly a year since the first case was reported in the country.

The SWS survey, conducted from November 21 to 25, found that a record-high 91 percent of 1,500 adult respondents were concerned that they or their family members might catch COVID-19 instead if they received the vaccine jabs. .

Pulse Asia, on the other hand, revealed that only 32 percent would get themselves inoculated once vaccines are available, with 84 percent of those unwilling, concerned about safety.

In her weekly radio show, Robredo said that apart from securing doses for the country, the administration should also prioritize getting the public to trust the vaccines.

Duque at the recent Senate hearing acknowledged that Filipinos “very unfortunate experience” with the Dengvaxia vaccine affected public confidence in any vaccine. While the numbers rose since 2017, “more still needs to be done,” he said.

Vaccination efforts in the country had been affected in recent years due to fears from a botched anti-dengue vaccination program.  The highly-politicized controversy eroded public trust on vaccines, which took decades to establish, despite no established links of deaths resulting from Dengvaxia inoculation.

Criminal complaints had been filed against government officials over the Dengvaxia program. Some have already reached the courts, while some are still pending at the prosecution level.

Duque said: “We are working with the Philippine Information Agency, and we are producing videos, video production so that we can be able to show this to our people, hammering on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines that we will inoculate them with, and transparency is also very important in all of these.”

Duque said they will tap the Philippine Medical Association and the Philippine Nurses Association in its information drive. “We need these advocates to really help us to explain to the public about the safety and efficacy and the immunogenicity of the vaccines,” he added.

The Health secretary added that the campaign will also discuss the process in choosing the safest and the most effective vaccine.

Duque added: “We will have a strategy precisely to zero in on this low vaccine confidence of our people.”

The last time the Department of Health mounted a massive health information campaign was during the time of former Health Sec. Juan Flavier whose “Let’s DOH it” drive made him immensely popular which then purveyed into winning a Senate seat.