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VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Roque claim on Asian countries vaccination rates is wrong

Responding to critics who said the Philippines is falling behind the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccination drive in Asia, Palace Spokesperson Harry Roque mistakenly claimed that only three countries in the region have started their vaccination rollouts as of Feb. 2.


In a series of tweets on Feb. 2, Roque, insisting that the national government is right on schedule with its Asian neighbors, said:

Ano ba ho ang katotohanan? Sa tatlong Asyanong mga bansa pa lang po ang nag-rollout, ito po ang Singapore, ang India at ang Indonesia.

(What is the truth? Only three Asian countries have started their [vaccination] rollouts. These are Singapore, India, and Indonesia.)

Source: Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Official Twitter Account, “Ano ba ho ang katotohanan?…,” Feb. 2, 2021

Roque went on to say:

[I]lan na ho ba talaga ang nabakunahan sa mga lugar na ito? Well, sa Singapore, 1.98% pa lang po ang nababakunahan; sa India, 0.27% pa lamang; at sa Indonesia, 0.19[%]. Ang ibig sabihin po nito, hindi po tayo nangungulelat. Kung magsisimula po tayong magbakuna ng Pebrero, halos kasabay po natin ang halos lahat na karatig-bansa natin.”

([H]ow many have been vaccinated in these countries? Well, in Singapore, only 1.98% have been vaccinated; in India, only 0.27%, and in Indonesia, 0.19[%]. This means that we’re not falling behind. If we will be starting our vaccination in February, we are almost just in pace with almost all of our neighboring countries.)

Source: Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Official Twitter Account, “Well, sa Singapore, 1.98% pa lang po…,” Feb. 2, 2021


At least 13 out of 55 member states of the Asia-Pacific region in the United Nations (UN) have already started their respective COVID-19 vaccination rollouts in varying degrees as of Feb. 2, including four countries in Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Singapore, Lao PDR, and Myanmar).

Israel, which geographically belongs to the Asian continent (but not included in the 55), is leading the vaccination drive in the world, having inoculated about 35% of its 9.29 million overall population with one of two doses as of Feb. 3. The country has been administering mostly Pfizer-BioNTech jabs, and a “small number of doses” from Moderna, according to news reports.

The Embassy of Israel in Manila, however, told VERA Files Fact Check in an earlier interview that the country has already vaccinated 50% of its eligible population, which does not include people under age 16. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Trillanes’ claim on the status of COVID-19 vaccination programs in Israel, Southeast Asia is misleading, needs context)

The World Health Organization has not yet recommended the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to be administered to children below 16 years old while its developers are still gathering data to evaluate its safety on younger age groups (ages 12-15 and 16-7).

Roque is also wrong in citing that only 1.98% of Singaporeans have been vaccinated. Having started its vaccination drive using Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 jabs on Dec. 30, 2020, Singapore, as of Feb. 1, has inoculated with the first of two doses “more than 155,000 individuals,” or about 2.73% of its almost 5.69 million overall population.

Latest estimates from Singapore’s Department of Statistics show adults aged 20 and above comprise almost 57% of the country’s population, or approximately 3.24 million.

Roque’s claim came after Vice President Leni Robredo weighed in on the results of the COVID-19 Pandemic Response Index conducted by the Lowy Institute, an independent international policy think tank based in Australia.

The study, which compared the “effectiveness of countries’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic,” ranked the Philippines 79th out of 98 countries that were monitored for nine months until January 2021.

It was based on six indicators, namely: confirmed cases; confirmed deaths; confirmed cases per million people; confirmed deaths per million people; confirmed cases as a proportion of tests; and, tests per thousand people.

In her weekly radio show, Robredo said while the report showed that the Philippines’ pandemic response performance “isn’t good,” the national government can use these reviews to recalibrate its policies and solutions.

She said:

Sana ‘yung mga ganitong mga assessment, seryosohin; instead na depensahan, tanggapin [at] hanapan ng solusyon. Kasi hanggang ngayon … ‘pag pinakinggan natin, dinedepensahan pa din.

(I hope that we take these kinds of assessment[s] seriously; instead of being defensive [of it], accept it, find a solution. Because up until now … when we hear (them), they’re still defending it [pandemic response].)”

Source: Vice President Leni Robredo Official Facebook Account, [BISErbisyong LENI – Episode 195], Jan. 31, 2021, watch from 17:02 to 17:54.

In its research, the Lowy Institute noted that while the countries were ranked, “no single type of country emerged the unanimous winner in the period examined.” However, the report added that “in general, countries with smaller populations, cohesive societies, and capable institutions have a comparative advantage in dealing with a global crisis such as a pandemic.”

New Zealand, with a population of 4.82 million as of 2020, ranked first with a score of 94.4 out of a hundred, followed by Vietnam, with 96.2 million individuals as of 2019, with 90.8.

In a Feb. 11 press briefing, Roque said the Philippines will be receiving the first shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines through the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVAX facility before the end of February.

The spokesman added that physician Jonas Del Rosario, spokesperson of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), will be “the first person to be legally vaccinated” with the COVID-19 vaccine.

In the same briefing, Roque said 600,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine will be arriving on Feb. 23, with 100,000 doses donated by China to the Department of National Defense.

To date, only two COVID-19 vaccines — those of Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca — have been granted an emergency use authorization by the country’s Food and Drug Administration.


Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Official Twitter Account, Ano ba ho ang katotohanan?…, Feb. 2, 2021

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Official Twitter Account, Well, sa Singapore, 1.98% pa lang po…, Feb. 2, 2021

United Nations, Regional groups of Member States, Accessed Feb. 15, 2021

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel and the Region, Accessed Feb. 15, 2021

The Associated Press, Indonesia starts mass COVID vaccinations over vast territory, Jan. 14, 2021

Channel News Asia, More than 113,000 people in Singapore receive first dose of COVID-19 vaccine: MOH, Jan. 28, 2021

The Star Malaysia, Laos declares Covid-19 vaccinations safe, more to be inoculated next week, Jan. 6, 2021

Nikkei Asia, Myanmar starts India-made COVID jabs, but China vaccine on hold, Jan. 27, 2021

The Times of Israel, Vaccination nation: 5 factors in Israel’s world-leading COVID inoculation drive, Jan. 6, 2021

British Broadcasting Corporation, Coronavirus: Israel leads vaccine race with 12% given jab, Jan. 3, 2021

Wall Street Journal, Israel’s Covid-19 Vaccinations Hold Lessons for U.S., Jan. 26, 2021

Israel Ministry of Health, COVID-19 Vaccination Information, Accessed Feb. 18, 2021

CNN, Israel’s health data suggests Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may be more effective than we thought , Jan. 29, 2021

Deutsche Welle (DW), Israel’s clever coronavirus vaccination strategy, Feb. 16, 2021

The Times of Israel, PM: 1st Moderna shots land Thursday, we’ll give to those who can’t come to HMOs, Jan. 6, 2021

World Health Organization, Who can take the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine?, Jan. 8, 2021

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pfizer-BioNTech, Jan. 25, 2021


Sources for Asian countries vaccination timeline

Singapore Government Official Website, What you should know about the COVID-19 vaccine, Dec. 30, 2020

Reuters, Singapore begins COVID-19 vaccinations, marking ‘new chapter’ in virus fight, Dec. 30, 2020

New Delhi Television, Singapore Begins COVID-19 Vaccinations With Pfizer In One Of Asia’s First, Dec. 30, 2020, Singapore rolls out COVID-19 vaccination exercise, Dec. 30, 2020

Singapore Ministry of Health, QUESTION NO. 382, Feb. 1, 2021

Singapore Department of Statistics, Population and Population Structure, Accessed Feb. 18, 2021

Singapore Ministry of Health, Health Advisory, Accessed Feb. 18, 2021

The Lowy Institute, COVID Performance Index: Deconstructing Pandemic Responses, Jan. 28, 2021

The Lowy Institute, About The Lowy Institute, Accessed Feb. 11, 2021

Vice President Leni Robredo Official Facebook Account, [BISErbisyong LENI – Episode 195], Jan. 31, 2021

United Nations Data App, New Zealand, Accessed Feb. 11, 2021

World Bank, Vietnam, Accessed Feb. 11, 2021

Presidential Communications Operations Office Official Facebook Page, Spox Roque Virtual Press Briefing February 11, 2021, Feb. 11, 2021

World Health Organization, COVAX: Working for global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, Accessed Feb. 11, 2021

Philippine Food and Drug Administration, Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID19 Vaccine Suspension for IM Injection, Jan. 14, 2021

Philippine Food and Drug Administration, Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for COVID-19 Vaccine (ChAdOx1- S[recombinant]) (COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca), Jan. 28, 2021

(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.)