Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has opted to be vaccinated against the coronavirus in private because he is getting the jab in his buttocks, a spokesperson said this week, dashing hopes the 75-year-old would set a more public example in a country with strong anti-vaccine sentiment.
“It cannot be public since the president said he will take the jab in the buttocks,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a briefing on Tuesday.
The palace is now on the defensive as critics led by Vice-President Leni Robredo (the two positions are elected separately in the Philippines) demand the president follow the path of leaders around the world who got vaccinated on camera, sometimes live.
They fear that a closed-door jab will only sow more distrust among a public still recovering from a controversial Dengue vaccine blamed for the deaths of hundreds of children between 2017 to 2018. There was a dramatic drop in vaccine confidence after the controversy around Dengvaxia—whose French manufacturers maintain is safe—from 93 percent in 2015 to 32 percent in 2018.
Experts say the Philippines needs to increase vaccine trust to develop herd immunity and defeat the virus that has killed more than 10,400 people.
Only 25 percent of Metro Manila’s nearly 13 million people are willing to be inoculated against the coronavirus, a January survey showed. Across the country, 47 percent of Filipinos surveyed said they do not want to take the jabs.
Increasingly wild rumors are also spreading about the vaccine, which the government has procured from China’s Sinovac. The news agency Reuters reported that one conspiracy theory contends the vaccine will allow Duterte to kill people by pushing a button.
U.S. President Joe Biden, Vice-President Kamala Harris and King Salman of South Arabia are just a few examples of prominent leaders around the world who have gotten a version of the vaccine on live television or been photographed receiving it.
Duterte’s counterpart in Indonesia, President Joko Widodo, took China’s Sinovac jab on live television as did Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who received the Pfizer-made vaccine.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III asked the public to respect the president’s choice for a private shot.
“His decision can be likened to the decision of the monarchy of England,” Duque told reporters on Wednesday. “The important thing is the effect [of the vaccine] will be the same.”
Taking the injection in the buttocks is a possible option if the muscles in the arms are thin, another health official said in a televised briefing.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cautioned against using the buttocks when inoculating children and said it’s not generally recommended for adults either because of risks to the sciatic nerve.