By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor 

Many Filipinos are reluctant to be vaccinated against Covid-19, especially if the vaccine comes from China.

A rash of negative reports on the Sinovac vaccine has been cited as the main reason why up to half of all Filipinos would rather not be vaccinated, even if the medication is free.

A recent survey from Pulse Asia found that almost half of adult Filipinos are not inclined to be vaccinated due to safety concerns.

Only one third of the 2,400 Filipinos who were surveyed said they were willing to be vaccinated, while 21 percent said they were not sure.

The government seeks to inoculate half of the total Philippine population this year, using 148 million doses from seven vaccine manufacturers.

Since the start of the pandemic, President Rodrigo Duterte has been pushing for the Sinovac treatment from China.

Distrust in the China-made vaccine began when the public was informed of its price, which was initially quoted in the PHP3,500 (US$73) range. This, even as neighboring countries were buying the vaccine at a substantially lower price.

The reports of the suspected overprice reached the Senate, which ordered an investigation.

Representatives from the Duterte administration could not explain the discrepancy in prices but later backtracked, saying the prices quoted in media were incorrect.

While refusing to divulge the purchase price of the Sinovac vaccine, the Department of Health eventually said that the price was closer to PHP600 (US$12.50), and was thus nowhere near PHP3,500.

The Duterte administration’s “Vaccine czar” Carlito Galvez unfairly absorbed some of the flak during the Senate hearing as he had been appointed to the post after news of the overpriced China vaccine.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he could vouch for the integrity of Galvez. 

During last week’s hearing, Sinovac General Manager Helen Yang said she could not disclose how much their vaccine was being sold to the Philippine government but that it was definitely a “very good” price.

Reports over social media were another reason for the public distrust of China-made vaccines, the most disturbing of which said that Sinopharm – the other Chinese company that manufactures a Covid-19 vaccine – was “the most unsafe in the world” due to its 73 known side effects.

Tao Lina, a Shanghai-based vaccine expert, noted that the instruction manual for the Chinese vaccines warned of such side effects as pain in the injection site, headaches, high blood pressure, loss of vision, loss of taste, delayed menstruation, and urinary incontinence.

Such numerous side effects in a single vaccine was “absolutely unprecedented,” said Tao.

Then there is the efficacy of the China-made vaccines, which have shown to be only 50 percent effective. The Chinese government had initially claimed that their vaccines had an efficacy rate of 79.34 percent but this was belied by actual results from the field.

By comparison, vaccines made by such western companies as Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna were proven to be at least 90 percent effective.

It is for this reason that all the local government units comprising Metro Manila have opted to buy the western vaccines instead of the China-made ones.

One other reason why more Filipinos are wary of receiving the Covid-19 vaccine is the earlier controversy involving Dengvaxia.

The Dengvaxia vaccine was distributed during the time of then President Benigno Aquino III, which was later questioned during the Duterte administration as allegedly causing a number of deaths in children.

A Congressional hearing did not conclude that the Dengvaxia vaccine was any more dangerous than any other medication that came in the form of a vaccine.

In 1990, nine out of 10 Filipinos believed in vaccines as effective therapy against numerous illnesses. That figure has since dropped to about half.