VERA FILES FACT CHECK: PNA report on PH COVID-19 vaccination rollout needs context

The Philippine News Agency (PNA), a state-run newswire service, reported that the Philippines ranked 2nd in Southeast Asia in terms of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccination rollout. Its basis was a comparison of the number of vaccines administered per country in the region.

But according to a former adviser of the COVID-19 national task force, the progress of a country’s vaccination rollout should be based on the percentage of its vaccination target that have been inoculated, and not on the count of jabs administered.

PNA’s article was then shared by former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on his social media accounts, causing the claim to gain more traction online.

STATEMENT

On May 23, PNA published a story comparing the country’s vaccination efforts to those of its neighboring states. Its headline read:

“PH ranks No. 2 in Covid-19 vax rollout in Southeast Asia”

Source: Philippine News Agency, PH ranks No. 2 in Covid-19 vax rollout in Southeast Asia (Archived), May 23, 2021

The accompanying graphic posted on its official Facebook (FB) page was labeled: “Vaccination rollout in ASEAN,” where the Philippines was ranked second.

Two days later, Marcos’ official FB and Twitter accounts shared PNA’s news report and posted its own graphics that stated: “Philippines ranks #2 in COVID vaccine rollout in Southeast Asia.”

Marcos’ FB post got about 13,000 reactions, more than 600 comments, and over 850 shares, while his tweet got 150 likes and 33 retweets as of publishing.

FACT

PNA specified in its lead and social media caption that its basis for ranking the Philippines high in terms of vaccination rollout in Southeast Asia was the number of vaccines administered by each country as of May 22, compared to other states.


This is “misleading,” said Tony Leachon, former special adviser to the National Task Force on COVID-19, in a May 25 tweet. He said the vaccination status of the Philippines should be reported “based on the [percentage] of the population vaccinated [in relation] to the overall goal or target for herd immunity, rather than on the administered doses.”

Following Leachon’s recommendation, the Philippines would be ranked 9th out of 10 Southeast Asian countries in terms of vaccination status. Timor-Leste was not included in the ranking due to the lack of data on its vaccination progress.

At the time of PNA’s reporting, 949,939 out of the national government’s target of 50 million to 70 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated, which equates to around 1.37% to 1.9% of the country’s vaccination goal.

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Data from the official FB page of Kementerian Kesehatan RI (Indonesian Ministry of Health) shows it had administered more than 24.7 million vaccine doses, the most in the region as of May 22. The Philippines took the second spot, with almost 4.1 million vaccines.

BACKSTORY

To achieve herd immunity, countries set a target number of their population to be fully vaccinated by the end of 2021.

The World Health Organization defines herd immunity as the indirect protection of people against an infectious disease when a population is immune either through vaccination or through previous infection.

Health and government officials initially said the country aims to inoculate 70% of the Filipino population — around 70 million people — to achieve herd immunity. But in May, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said the vaccination target has been lowered to 50 million due to a supply shortage in view of the surge in COVID-19 cases in India.

This was reaffirmed in a May 26 press briefing, in which Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje said a vaccination target had been adjusted to 50% to 60% of the Philippine population by the end of 2021 or early 2022.

A memorandum from the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) was leaked on April 27 about a month before PNA published its report needing context. It shows a directive from President Rodrigo Duterte ordering government media platforms to give regular updates about global data on COVID-19, “specifically to convey to the public that the Philippines is faring better than many other countries in addressing the pandemic.”

PCOO News and Information Bureau (NIB) Director Virginia Arcilla-Agtay confirmed the existence of the memo a day later, saying that she sees no problem with “amplifying facts” about the Duterte administration’s handling of the health crisis.


Sources

Philippine News Agency, About the Agency, Accessed May 28, 2021

Philippine News Agency, PH ranks No. 2 in Covid-19 vax rollout in Southeast Asia (Archived), May 23, 2021

Bongbong Marcos official Facebook page, Ang Pilipinas ay kabilang sa nangunguna sa pagbabakuna sa Southeast Asia (Archived), May 25, 2021

Bongbong Marcos official Twitter account, Ang Pilipinas ay kabilang sa nangunguna sa pagbabakuna sa Southeast Asia (Archived), May 25, 2021

Indonesian Ministry of Health official Facebook page, Update on the progress of COVID-19 vaccination in Indonesia, as of May 22, 2021, May 22, 2021

National Task Force Against Covid19 official Facebook page, 4M Vaccine Doses Administered, May 23, 2021

Tony Leachon MD Twitter account, This is the way to report the vaccination status…, May 25, 2021

World Health Organization, WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19, October 12, 2020

Esquire Philippines, What Is Herd Immunity and When Will the Philippines Achieve It? March 19, 2021

Philippine Daily Inquirer, ‘Better Christmas’ ‍seen as PH gets herd immunity by November, May 15, 2021

ABS-CBN News, Herd immunity? Duque says PH may achieve it in 2022 if vaccines delayed, April 30, 2021

Llanesca T. Panti Twitter account, This is the leaked PCOO memo…, April 28, 2021

Philippine News Agency, Nothing wrong with ‘amplifying’ facts on PH Covid-19 response, April 28, 2021

Philippine Daily Inquirer, Palace to gov’t media: Stress PH ranking in COVID-19 fight, April 29, 2021

ABS-CBN News official Twitter account, PCOO's News and Information Bureau (NIB) Director Virginia Arcilla-Agtay…, April 28, 2021

Table 1 sources


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)

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