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The Philippines has the second-highest number of Covid-19 infections and deaths in souith-east Asia, after Indonesia. The Philippines has the second-highest number of Covid-19 infections and deaths in souith-east Asia, after Indonesia.   (ANSA)

Philippine Church calls for fair, ethical Covid-19 vaccination

The Catholic bishops of the Philippines are calling on the government to ensure that the planned Covid-19 vaccination programme is accessible to all, with vaccine produced in line with ethical principles and which is administered respecting each person’s choices.

By Vatican News staff writer

The appeal comes in a recent pastoral statement by Archbishop Ricardo Baccay of Tuguegarao, chairman of the Office on Bioethics of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).  “We therefore support the efforts of our national government to procure and to deploy these vaccines in our country, and we thank the private organizations who have come forward to help acquire them,” says the statement endorsed by CBCP president, Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao. 

Prioritizing the vulnerable

In the statement, the bishops urge the government and the private organizations “to commit to a vaccine distribution plan that prioritizes doctors who are on the front lines and those who are most at risk.”  They noted that it would be a “moral tragedy” if young, healthy company employees who are at low risk for the disease were to be inoculated before the doctors, nurses, other frontliners and senior citizens who are at higher risk of infection. 

On Wednesday, the Department of Health said vulnerable sectors of the population would be prioritized in the vaccination drive, given the limited supply of vaccines worldwide.  

The poor

The Filipino bishops express appreciation for the government’s policy of ensuring that the poor will have access to the vaccination programme.  “”The poor are beloved of the Lord,” they point out. “They should be especially protected because their poverty makes them vulnerable to infection and severe disease.”

The CBCB point out that the Covid-19 vaccines will only be able to end the pandemic in the country if enough Filipinos are vaccinated.  Hence they urge all people to be immunized when the vaccines arrive in the Philippines.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said 60 to 70 percent of the population must be vaccinated for the population to achieve herd immunity against the disease. 

Moral guidelines

The Filipino bishops also point to ethical norms in the production of the vaccine and the process of inoculation.  Citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, they say, “Each individual person should be left free to decide to choose to be vaccinated or not according to his or her conscience with full awareness of the obligation to protect oneself from being an instrument of contagion and the further spread of the virus.”

The pastoral statement points to the recent moral guideline by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which says that “when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available (e.g. in countries where vaccines without ethical problems are not made available to physicians and patients, or where their distribution is more difficult due to special storage and transport conditions, or when various types of vaccines are distributed in the same country but health authorities do not allow citizens to choose the vaccine with which to be inoculated), it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”

In October, the CBCP had said that if there are several vaccines available, the government should  prioritize those developed “without the use of the morally controversial cell lines derived from the remains of an aborted child”.

Philippine Covid-19 situation

With a total of nearly 500,000 cases and almost 10,000 deaths, the Philippines has the second-highest Covid-19 infections and casualties in Southeast Asia, after Indonesia.  Currently, the Philippines is negotiating the procurement of vaccines.  It said it is buying 25 million doses of Chinese-made Sinovac Biotech's experimental vaccine, with the first 50,000 expected to arrive in February.  The government prefers to source its vaccines from either China or Russia.

16 January 2021, 14:54