Vaccination ‘not mandatory’ but soldiers have to take Sinovac jabs

February 26, 2021 - 1:18 PM
Western Mindanao Command
Military chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana visits the Western Mindanao Command at Camp Navarro in Calarian, Zamboanga City on Feb. 19, 2021.

Vaccination is supposed to be a personal decision and Malacañang vowed that COVID-19 immunization is not mandatory.

However, the military is making it compulsory for soldiers and their dependents to take jabs from Sinovac, which is the first brand of vaccines expected to arrive in the Philippines this Sunday, February 28.

At an online briefing on February 25, Marine Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, the military spokesperson, stressed that receiving vaccines “immediately” is their “duty.”

“Thus, to get inoculated or not is not an option for the members of the AFP, it is a duty,” Arevalo said.

He said it is especially necessary for soldiers who serve as frontliners or those exposed to COVID-19 patients.

Those who choose to forego Sinovac CoronaVac jabs for other brands, they will have to shoulder the costs of receiving another brand, Arevalo said.

“At the most, the exercise of an option will be the option to as to what brand of vaccine they will be availing of, but the cost of which will not be paid by the AFP,” he said.

China donated the first batch of these vaccines comprising 600,000 doses to the Philippines.

Malacañang earlier said that 100,000 of these will be given to the Department of National Defense, the armed forces’ parent agency.

All uniformed personnel and front-line personnel in essential sectors, including the military, are at the fourth in the national government’s priority list for vaccination.

A test of loyalty?

Some Filipinos on Facebook criticized the AFP over the new mandate to all soldiers, saying that that they are being treated as “guinea pigs” for loyalty.

“Poor military. No choice, will turn into frogs soon. This gov’t is really forcing people whatever it takes. It’s so obvious what the gov’t will get in return,” commented one user.

“Excellent Guinea pigs…no choice,” another wrote.

One Facebook user viewed this situation as similar to the inoculation of Presidential Security Group personnel with smuggled vaccines last year.

“That’s in exchange for Duterte’s pampering of the military (a big raise in pay, benefits, etc.). The military can’t say no to him even if they would be ordered to offer their lives. Best example is the PSG. They know it’s illegal but still did it. They enjoyed the benefits anyway. So sad. See when you make a deal with the devil. Your soul is forfeited,” the user wrote.

A Twitter user also noted the risks should Arevalo insist on giving Chinese-made vials to them.

“What kind of option is that? Should you continue on insisting those China-made vaccines, you are risking soldiers to run amok. The pandemic has caused enough mental health problems to those assigned in AFP swabbing and quarantine facilities who got zero hazard pay,” the user said.

Early this January, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque made a similar remark on Filipinos who preferred the vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca over Sinovac, which President Rodrigo Duterte personally prefers.

“So tama lang naman po iyan ‘no, walang pilian kasi hindi naman natin maku-control talaga kung anong darating ‘no at libre po ito ‘no,” Roque said.

Hold off on rollout

The Department of Health and the National Task Force against COVID-19 issued a clarification that Sinovac will not yet be rolled out once it arrived in the Philippines.

Despite obtaining a conditional emergency use authorization from the drug regulators in the Philippines, the CoronaVac doses will still be evaluated by the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group.

It will then recommend it to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Managing Emerging Infectious Diseases for further approval.