Catholic bishops in the Philippines allayed people’s fears about COVID-19 vaccines, saying they are willing to be among the first to be inoculated if these become available in the country.
“If people would see me publicly vaccinated, why not?” said Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, in an online media briefing on Jan. 28.
The prelate said the bishop can be vaccinated in public, “even before television so that we can encourage people and remove their fears of vaccination.”
Archbishop Valles said even Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had themselves vaccinated against the coronavirus disease.
When asked if the bishops would choose which vaccine to have, Archbishop Valles said if he could wait for a good vaccine, he would.
“But if the situation tells me that you cannot wait, I would take any vaccine offered,” he added.
Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, vice president of the bishops’ conference, said “anything that can allay the fears of vaccination, we will offer in the Church.”
A church-run radio station this week released a survey noting that about seven out of 10 Filipinos will consider the safety of whatever coronavirus vaccine is available before deciding to be vaccinated.
The survey carried out by Radio Veritas 846 noted that 67 percent of respondents answered “safety” when asked about their “primary consideration” when deciding whether or not to be vaccinated.
Consideration of the vaccine’s efficacy followed at 17 percent, then country of manufacture at eight percent, and testimony of early users at six percent.
Bishop David said dioceses are already going into partnerships with local government units for the vaccination campaign.
Several bishops have already offered church facilities for use as vaccination centers especially in areas where there are no other venues.
“[The government] needs auditoriums or schools, we can offer our church facilities in this massive and quite complicated and very challenging program of vaccination,” said Archbishop Valles.
The country’s Catholic Church leaders have earlier expressed support for the government’s efforts to acquire COVID-19 vaccines and have called for the prioritization of poor communities in its deployment.
In a pastoral statement released on Jan. 8 by Bishop Ricardo Baccay, chairman of the bishops’ Office on Bioethics, the church leaders urged the government to commit to a single vaccine distribution plan that will prioritize medical frontliners and those who are most at risk.
The bishops, however, reminded that the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that everyone has the right “to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions.”
The prelates said a person “must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience,” adding that the right of individuals “to choose to be vaccinated or not” should be recognized.
The Philippines will get its first batch of about one 1 million COVID-19 vaccine shots next month.
Carlito Galvez Jr., head of the government team tasked to purchase the vaccines, said he was negotiating with pharmaceutical firms to get 200,000 to 500,000 doses from UK’s AstraZeneca for health workers, 500,000 jabs from Chinese firm Sinovac, and an unspecified number of shots from US-based Pfizer.
“More or less, we will have an early rollout this February. More or less, more than one million doses,” said Galvez in a media briefing on Jan. 27.
The Philippine government aims to vaccinate up 70 million people against the new coronavirus this year to achieve herd immunity.
It is working to lock in 148 million doses from seven vaccine makers, on top of 40 million shots that will come from the Covax Facility, a global initiative that aims to ensure equitable access to the vaccines.
The Philippines has logged 518,407 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Jan. 28, including 10,481 deaths, and 475,542 recoveries.