Duterte considering mandatory vaccinations vs COVID-19

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night, September 27, said he was considering making vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory in the Philippines, adding that the government could “compel” those who did not want to get vaccinated to receive a shot.

Duterte broached the idea during his regular Talk to The People address after claiming the government was “almost pleading down on our knees” to avail of vaccines when they become available. 

“You know I do not want to advance this theory, but under the police power of the state, everybody can be compelled to be vaccinated, not because we do not believe in your…belief or religion, but because you are a carrier and a danger to society,” Duterte said. 

“Contrary to the belief or opinion of others, I, opinion ko lang yan (its just my opinion), can compel you under the police power of the state,” he added. 

Can the Chief Executive really do this?

While Duterte said this was possible under the government’s police power, lawyers and experts have said a law would need to be enacted for such, at the very least. 

The Philippine Congress had previously enacted a law that made some immunizations mandatory before, but for children. Specifically, Republic Act No. 10152 makes immunization compulsory for all infants and children for tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, poliomyelitis, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis-B, H. influenza type B, and "such other types as may be determined by the Secretary of Health in a department circular."

Earlier in April, a bill had also been filed at the House of Representatives seeking to make vaccinations mandatory

Asked about the topic in the same month, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra had deferred comment but mentioned that some of the issues involved would be due process, police power, exceptions, penalties, and availability of alternatives. 

Meanwhile several countries like the United States, Australia, Canada, France, Indonesia, and Russia, among others, have turned to vaccine mandates to increase coverage rates. In the Philippines, vaccination against COVID-19 is not mandatory for now.

Instead of compelling people to get vaccinated, the Department of Health previously said that it wanted people to get vaccinated because of the protection vaccines offered. It stood by the recommendation of experts to give people the right to choose whether or not they will get vaccinated, adding that people should also be able to decide based on how well the importance of vaccination was explained to them. 

On Monday night, Duterte argued one’s personal or religious beliefs would be considered “irrelevant” in refusing to get vaccinated. 

“If everybody does not comply with the vaccines and we can have a wild spread, wildfire spread, then the police must go and intervene in your private life so that you cannot be a danger to society,” he said. 

Duterte had previously threatened to order the arrest of persons who refused to get vaccinated. 

A Pulse Asia survey conducted in June 2021, or months into the rollout of vaccines, found that pushing for compliance or making vaccination mandatory may be helpful for some unwilling to get vaccinated. But it was among the least convincing factors that could boost vaccination turnout the country. Instead, seeing friends and family getting vaccinated is among the top drivers of vaccine confidence in the Philippines. 

– Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.