Philippines cheers bishops’ offer to help allay COVID-19 vaccine fears

February 1, 2021 - 1:18 PM
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Health workers hold placards during a protest calling for better government response amid the COVID-19 outbreak, as the one-year anniversary of the first case in the Philippines approaches, outside a government hospital in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, January 29, 2021. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

MANILA — The Philippines‘ health ministry on Sunday welcomed the offer of the country’s group of Catholic bishops to help in the coronavirus vaccination drive of the government, which is struggling to persuade many Filipinos to get the shots.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has offered to transform church facilities in the country into COVID-19 vaccination sites, and said its members were also willing to get vaccinated in public to help build confidence in the campaign.

“We are happy with the CBCP’s offer,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque said in a statement. “Churches really can be alternative sites to areas that lack facility, especially those in hard-to-reach municipalities.”

The health ministry has acknowledged they face an uphill struggle to persuade many people to take the vaccine shots, on top of the logistical difficulties in reaching 2,000 inhabited islands with precarious health systems.

“We can offer our church facilities to help in this massive and complicated and very challenging program of vaccination,” Archbishop Romulo Valles, CBCP president, was quoted as saying on Thursday by the official news service of the CBCP Media Office.

The Southeast Asian country, among the world’s laggards in its vaccination rollout, aims to start immunizations next month. It has the second-worst coronavirus outbreak in the region with more than half a million infections and over 10,000 deaths.

The church remains influential in the Catholic-majority country, although its relationship with the current administration has not been as cordial as with previous leaderships.

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly lambasted the church, which had criticized him over his bloody war on drugs. —Reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz; Editing by Sam Holmes