Angered by reports of Filipinos picky over coronavirus vaccine make, the Duterte administration announced last week that effective immediately, patients can no longer choose their vaccine brand.

This, after the Health department said countless Filipinos were shying away from the China-made vaccines, preferring to receive vaccines from Western countries, such as Moderna and Pfizer.

When told that they were only going to receive what was available, regardless of brand, the public reaction ranged from irritation to anger, with politicians saying keeping the brands to be administered secret was possibly illegal.

Known as a “brand agnostic” policy, the government reacted to complaints from health workers that Filipinos were shying away from the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines, insisting that they be jabbed with non-Chinese vaccines instead.

The Department of Health responded to the negative reaction to the order by saying that they were “open” to reviewing the new policy, with Health Undersec. Myrna Cabotaje saying they were in talks with local government units, especially in Metro Manila.

Navotas City Mayor Toby Tiangco said the order would only discourage people from getting jabbed.

But other mayors in the metropolis said they would comply with the order, with at least six announcing that they would only inform the patients of what would be used on them once they were already at the vaccination sites. 

Mayors Joy Belmonte of Quezon City, Francis Zamora of San Juan, and Emi Calixto-Rubiano of Pasay all said they would follow the directive from the Department of Local Governments, while the Manila and Muntinlupa LGUs released statements indicating the same.

But Manila Mayor Isko Moreno earlier said that the city’s residents lining up to receive the shots could know beforehand what vaccine they would receive.

He left open the possibility that residents of the capital city could wait for the arrival of their preferred vaccines.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros warned that keeping the brand of vaccine a secret could further erode the public’s mistrust in the government’s mass vaccination program. Recent surveys have shown that almost half the Philippine population are not inclined to receive the inoculations, which are free to the general public.

Compounding the problem is anecdotal evidence that even healthcare workers are unhappy with the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines administered to them. This was due to early reports that said the efficacy of the Chinese vaccines are only around 50 percent, as against the 90 percent for the Western vaccines.

Also, reports have come out that travelers to the Middle East and the US had to show proof that they had been inoculated with Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines. Sinopharm and Sinovac were not acceptable.

Hontiveros called the new rule counterproductive and would have a negative effect on the ongoing national vaccination program. She said the move may also create unnecessary friction between patients and vaccinators, usually nurses.

Hontiveros said she wanted to allay the fears of the people, at the same time provide them with immediate protection.

“We could have addressed incidents of overcrowding in vaccination sites if they are giving out information correctly,” she said, adding that it was imperative that the national government strengthen its partnerships with LGUs and barangays to provide incentives as well as expand its COVID-19 vaccine education program.

In one case, hundreds of residents of a barangay in Manila flocked to an inoculation center last week after news spread that Pfizer vaccines would be used that day. However, only 900 doses were available that day. The residents who did not receive the Pfizer vaccine took to social media to express their dismay.