MANILA — The head of the National Vaccination Operations Center (NVOC) said Sunday no rights are being violated in the government's push to inoculate children aged 5 to 11 against COVID-19.
In an interview with ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo, Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje, the NVOC head, stressed that vaccination of the age group is not compulsory.
"The vaccination is not mandatory," said Cabotaje.
"There is consent of the parent, and we have added assent, kagaya ng 12 to 17. For 7 years and above, sinasabi din natin sa bata na ito ang mangyayari sa kaniya [sa pagbabakuna], ito ang ibibigay sa kaniya, ito ang benefits ng bakuna at ito rin ang side effects," Cabotaje explained.
(Parents will give their consent, and we have added assent, as with those aged 12 to 17... We also explain to the child what will happen during vaccination, what we will give them, the benefits of the vaccine as well as the side effects.)
The Philippines is set to start inoculating children aged 5 to 11 against COVID-19 on Monday, despite a court petition to stop the immunization drive for the age group.
The vaccination will begin in Metro Manila before the nationwide rollout on Feb. 14.
Public Attorneys Office (PAO) Chief Persida Acosta, whose office is representing two parents who petitioned against the pediatric vaccination at a Quezon City court, had cited a provision that may allow the government, through representatives from the social welfare department, to give consent for vaccination of a minor in case the latter wants to get vaccinated but the parent/guardian refuses.
That makes the vaccination for the age group "indirectly" mandatory, she said.
Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) former president Domingo Cayosa said the Department of Health should clarify the policy on consent.
"Dun kasi, nakalagay, hindi naman 'DSWD shall' (kundi), 'may'... Panawagan natin sa DOH, liwanagin n'yo nga yung probisyon na 'yan," he said in an interview last week.
(The provision did not say 'the DSWD shall', but 'may'... We call on the DOH to clarify that provision.)
Cabotaje reiterated that COVID-19 vaccines are generally safe, noting that the Philippines is not be the first country to immunize children against the respiratory illness.
Although the products only have emergency use authorization, she said studies have been conducted showing that the benefits outweigh the risk.
"Alam naman natin, mas grabe 'pag nagkasakit yung bata, nagkasakit yung adult ng COVID. So, the vaccine gives additional protection. It prevents severe disease, even death," she said.
(We know that children and adults who get COVID-19 get severely ill.)
Health authorities also expect those aged 5 to 11 to experience the same common adverse events that adults get following vaccination, such as fever or pain in the injection site, Cabotaje said.
The government, as stated in the law, will assist those who are proven to have showed adverse effects from vaccination, she said.
"Titingnan lang na ito ay talagang galing sa bakuna. Kung initially, wala pang causality na sinasabi natin, hindi ma-relate yung side effects sa bakuna, meron naman regular PhilHealth packages d'yan. Pero once na-trace ito na connected sa bakuna, meron tayong assessment sa regional at saka sa national. May tinatawag na indemnification," said Cabotaje.
(We'll just assess if it is really due to the vaccine. If initially, there is no established causality, or the side effects are not related to the vaccine, there are packages at PhilHealth for that. But once it is traced to the vaccine, there will be assessment at the regional and national level. And then, there's indemnification.)
"Puwedeng bayaran ng PhilHealth yung hanggang a certain percentage. And then, there are benefits for those affected, basta may causality assessment. So, hindi po wini-waive ng government (ang responsbility). That is part of the EUA agreement," she added.
(The PhilHealth can pay a certain percentage. There are benefits for those affected, as long as there is causality assessment. So, the government is not waiving its responsibility.)
"Kaya hindi puwedeng basta-basta bumili yung private sector at iba pang private individuals kasi nga ang responsibilidad, nasa DOH, basta hindi gross negligence ng ating mga nagbabakuna."
(That's why the private sector and individuals cannot buy these vaccines yet, because the responsibility still lies in the DOH, as long as there is no gross negligence from our vaccinators.)
The petitioners have objected to section 8 of Republic Act No. 11525 or the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021 that grants public officials and employees, contractors, manufacturers, volunteers, and representatives of duly authorized private entities immunity from suit and any liability that may arise out of the inoculation of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Similar to adults, children will be asked to stay in the vaccination site for about 15 minutes after getting the jab so they can be monitored for side effects, Cabotaje said.
She reiterated that the vaccines that would be administered to the age group have a lower formulation compared to those given to older people.
The health official advised that children with comorbidities must first seek clearance from their doctors before getting vaccinated.
Children who recently got COVID-19 must first be deemed "fully recovered" before receiving the vaccine, she added.
The country is expected to receive this month a total of 5.28 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine that will be used for the 5-11 age group, the official said.