MANILA - It is mandatory for all personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a military spokesperson said Thursday.
"To get inoculated or not is not an option for the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. It is a duty," AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said.
"The Chief of Staff has declared, at the end of the day, all or every AFP personnel and their immediate dependents must be vaccinated," he added, referring to Gen. Cirilito Sobejana.
All military personnel serving as health frontliners are required to get inoculated with the vaccine from Sinovac, as ordered by Sobejana, said Arevalo, three days before 600,000 doses of the said product that China is donating is expected to arrive in the Philippines.
"'Yun pong mga AFP personnel na naka-assign directly performing duties na exposed sa mga COVID-19 patient, kailangan mag-avail na po sila ng bakuna – kung anuman po ang available, which is Sinovac, for them to be protected in that particularly perilous or dangerous setting," Arevalo said.
(All AFP personnel directly assigned to and performing duties with exposure to COVID-19 patients, they need to avail of the vaccine, whatever is available - which is Sinovac - for them to be protected in that particularly perilous or dangerous setting.)
"Sabi nga ng ating Chief of Staff (As what our Chief of Staff said), it is better to be 50.4% protected for those who are exposed to our COVID-19 patients than not having any protection at all," he added, citing the efficacy rate for the Sinovac vaccine when used on health workers exposed to the infectious disease during its trial in Brazil.
Of the 600,000 doses, the Department of National Defense (DND) is getting 100,000.
The 180,000-strong AFP is among the recipients of the remaining 500,000 doses, although Arevalo did not explicitly say how many will go to the military.
But he also pointed out that the military was not in the race to secure vaccines ahead of the sectors that need it more.
Top commanders, from Sobejana down to area commanders, are not part of the immediate recipients list.
Arevalo said only those not serving as COVID-19 frontliners may opt for brands other than Sinovac's. In the meantime, they need to continue observing health protocol, such as wearing of face masks and face shields while on duty.
"At the most, the exercise of option will be the option as to what brand of vaccine they will be availing of. But the cost of which will not be paid by the Armed Forces of the Philippines," he said.
"Samakatuwid, kung gusto nila ng ibang brand ng bakuna na ituturok sa kanila, bukod sa bakunang inilaan para sa AFP, particular ang Sinovac, pwede po niyang piliin kung anumang brand ang gusto niya, subalit siya po ang magbabayad ng halaga nito,” he added.
Arevalo did not specify how much time the troops can wait for other vaccines to arrive, but said the order to get vaccinated is "immediate."
"Dapat, mag-avail siya as soon as possible. Ngayon, kung hindi siya available, balik tayo doon sa default natin," he said, referring to the Sinovac product.
Those who refuse to get vaccinated will face disciplinary action under the Articles of War, he said.
The AFP has not conducted any survey among its personnel on who wants to get vaccinated or not. Arevalo did not also say how many in the organization are listed as recipients of the Sinovac vaccine.
"We are thankful to the donor of - to the donor, or to those who would still like to donate vaccines for the Armed Forces of the Philippines. We see this as a kind gesture, or a recognition for the importance of the role that we play in the overall campaign to combat the spread of COVID-19," said Arevalo.
He said the AFP does not see any conflict of interest in inoculating Filipino forces, DND personnel and their families using the shots donated by a country with which the Philippines has competing claims in the South China Sea.
"Sa amin po sa Armed Forces, hindi po namin ito tinuturing na conflict of interest. Unang una, ito ay bakuna. 'Yan po ay pangangailangan ng sinumang Pilipino," he said.
"Hindi po natin 'yan kino-konsidera na isang bagay na nanggagaling sa isang bansa na binabanggit po ninyo na adbersaryo," he added.
The AFP has prepared 74 vaccination sites within military camps, and is coordinating with local governments for areas where in-camp equipment is unavailable.
Some members of the Presidential Security Group had already been inoculated against COVID-19 as early as September last year, using the vaccine candidate of Sinopharm, another China-based drugmaker.
Vaccination against COVID-19 in the United States military is voluntary.