The World Health Organization (WHO) has insisted that vaccination should remain optional despite the looming threat of the Covid-19 Omicron variant, noting that people should be “free to decide on what is best” for them.
Speaking at a media briefing Tuesday, WHO representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe reiterated that the international organization is not inclined to back proposals to make vaccination mandatory even if it “strongly advocated” for inoculation efforts against coronavirus.
“ The WHO has always taken the stance that we are not mandating vaccines. People should be free to decide on what is best for them,” he said.
“But we have strongly advocated that people — particularly for people at risk — be prioritized and provided with vaccines because we know that the vaccines are life-saving,” Abeyasinghe added.
The WHO official was responding to queries whether governments should require their citizens to get Covid-19 jabs following the discovery of the Omicron variant, said to have the most mutations and could be more infectious than the Delta virus type.
Abeyasinghe then stressed that the public should be encouraged to get vaccinated since jabs reduce severe infections or hospitalizations, particularly in the elderly population or those with illnesses.
In many countries like the Philippines, anti-coronavirus vaccination remains optional though there were discussions to make it mandatory or to “disincentivize” the unvaccinated population as some remain hesitant to get inoculated.
On Monday night, President Rodrigo Duterte said he may agree with the national pandemic task force if the body recommends making vaccination mandatory.
The task force “continues to weigh the options” on the matter, said Palace spokesperson and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles.
Nograles also acknowledged that mandating vaccination is a decision that rests on Congress, saying that a law is needed before the government can implement the proposed policy.
“It is up to Congress to pass a law if they feel the need,” he said in a televised public briefing.
“At the end of the day, we have to strike a balance between the police power of the state and the public’s right to health and safety, just like what the President had said,” the official added.
In the meantime, he said the government continues its efforts to boost public trust in Covid-19 vaccination through its three-day massive jab drive dubbed “Bayanihan, Bakunahan.”
The initiative, which runs from 29 November to 1 December, aims to vaccinate around nine million individuals in 8,000 sites nationwide.
The latest data showed that over 35.67 million Filipinos have completed their vaccination, while more than 45.43 million individuals are still waiting for their second shots. On the other hand, 188,000 individuals have received their boosters.
The Philippines aims to fully vaccinate a total of 54 million Filipinos by the end of the year to attain population protection against Covid-19.