In opposition to vaccine ‘brand agnostic’ policy, doctors say it will promote jab hesitancy

May 20, 2021 - 2:20 PM
Adela Corpuz, 66, receives her first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a school that temporarily serves as a vaccination site, in Manila, Philippines, May 14, 2021. (Reuters/Lisa Marie David)

Some doctors opposed the Department of Health‘s new “brand agnostic” policy in vaccination, citing it will increase hesitancy more than reduce it.

DOH Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje announced this policy in an interview with CNN’s The Source on Wednesday.

Cabotaje explained that “brand agnostic” means that the public will only know the vaccine brand they will receive upon their arrival at the site.

“Dapat sasabihin lang you go and whatever vaccine that will be available, you get it. So hindi na i-a-announce na we are now going to give Pfizer, we are now going to give Sinovac, we are now going to give AstraZeneca,” she said.

To those who do not like the vaccine available, Cabotaje said that the person will have to go to the end of the line again and give the slot to another.

“Come to the vaccination [site] and then whatever vaccines you will get there, then you have the jab. If they do not like the vaccines that are given during that time, then they go to the end of the line,” she said.

This was supposedly to prevent the previous incidents of overcrowding in vaccination centers in the cities of Manila and Parañaque where the much-coveted Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines were first rolled out.

The local medical community on Twitter, however, opposed this new policy, saying that this promotes vaccine distrust instead.

Physician Gideon Lasco stressed how “informed consent” to patients is important in medicine.

“I am shocked that the DOH wants Filipinos to sign up for vaccination not knowing which brand they’ll get. If we are to build vaccine confidence and empower the people, they need more information, not less,” Lasco said.

Dr. Gene Nisperos likewise noted that the lack of transparency will make the public more hesitant to receive the vaccination.

“Dear DOH at IATF, naniniwala talaga kayo na mas magpapabakuna ang mga tao kapag hindi nila alam ang ibabakuna sa kanila?! Yun ngang alam ng tao yung ibabakuna sa kanila eh hirap kayo manghikayat, yun pa kayang hindi nila alam?” Nisperos wrote.

YouTuber Doc Adam also echoed that the public has the right to know.

“This is just so wrong and will just cause even more vaccine hesitancy. Everyone has a right to know which vaccine ang makukuha nila,” he said.

‘Announce the brand from the start’

Amid the criticisms, one Twitter user argued that the brand agnostic policy allows patients to reschedule if they do not prefer the brand being handed to them.

“Before vaccination, the doctor will ask you to sign an informed consent indicating the vaccine that will be given to you. If you prefer another brand, you may reschedule and forego your slot. That’s up to you,” one user said.

Dr. Jai Cabajar said hat the local government could have announced the brand ahead of the inoculation.

“Exactly so why not announce it sa start? The only way this proposal could work ay kung may information dissemination sa site regarding efficacy ng vaccines, pero kung wala at uuwi ka rin lang, that’s unnecessary exposure,” he said.

Another doctor likewise stated that the problem lies in the vaccine registration process and crowd control.

“Eh di ayusin niyo yung registration processes. Effective crowd control at the venues. Walang ‘walk-ins’. Walang ‘padrino’ at ‘special arrangements’,” the doctor said.

Despite the criticisms, the DOH said “not announcing what brand will be available in inoculation sites will not take away the right of individuals to be informed of the vaccine they are taking.”

On Thursday, the Department of Interior and Local Government issued a directive ordering the local government units not to announce the vaccine brands available beforehand.

“The best vaccine is the one that is available; therefore in order to overcome brand preference, LGUs should not announce the brand of vaccine to be used in vaccination centers,” said DILG Secretary Eduardo Año.

The DILG also said the public will still be informed of the vaccine brand on-site.

In a news update, the city governments of Manila, Muntinlupa and Pasay said they would adhere with the national government’s order.

“The local government will comply,” the Manila Public Information Office said in a Viber message to the press.