Guv says COVID vaccine mandates not needed, but…

Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Jr.

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Jr. said Thursday that the province does not need to implement a mandatory coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccination edict but he remains open to the possibility of implementing such policy.

In his regular press conference, Defensor said he was open to requiring vaccinations for people to participate in high-risk activities, but admitted that implementation would be challenging.

He also does not see the mandate necessary because this was already being implemented by the guidelines of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID).

“The cornerstone of the COVID-19 Alert Level system is the management and the regulation of high-risk activities. We are not stopping establishments and other necessities, just the high-risk ones. For the good of everyone, [vaccine mandates] are a good idea, although implementing it is another thing,” Defensor said.

Defensor’s stand differs from that of Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas who is pushing for an ordinance that will limit the movement of unvaccinated persons.

The City Council is currently deliberating the proposed ordinance.

The governor also said that he was not aware of the Department of Transportation’s new “no vaccination, no ride” policy.

But he said that similar policies are not new to the province, referring to previous edicts where unvaccinated travelers from other parts of the country would be required to submit a negative RT-PCR test result.

“That can be done in other public transportation, because [commuting] is a high-risk activity, like the restaurants,” he said.

Defensor believes that Iloilo province is on a good trajectory with its vaccination program, with more vaccinators to be hired within January.

This is also one reason why he does not see vaccine mandates as necessary.

“We have requested vaccines, and there are now [pending] deliveries based on our requests. In terms of our percentages, we are doing well. We hired around 1,000 vaccinators to add to our municipalities, and they continue to work right now, that’s why we are moving relatively fast. We will be adding more at the end of the month,” he added.

Defensor admitted that vaccine hesitancy and access remain the top challenges in the province in its vaccination campaign.

“We have different challenges in the province, number one, aside from hesitancy, access. People who live in farther barangays either cannot travel or cannot be reached [for vaccination]. How do we bring [vaccinations] to barangays if we have 1,721 barangays?” he said.

Iloilo Provincial Health Office data as of Jan 13, 2022 indicated that 886,421 persons in the province have been fully vaccinated out of 1.075 million who received at least their first dose.

The provincial government recently initiated its own regular vaccine drive at the West Visayas State University Cultural Center (La Paz, Iloilo City) on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and at Robinsons Place Pavia on Tuesdays and Thursdays.