VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Roque wrongly equates protection from face mask and shield to getting COVID-19 vaccine

In explaining the government’s directive to keep using face masks and face shields to help control the transmission and spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Palace Spokesperson Harry Roque wrongly equated the protection from using these protective gear to getting vaccinated against the disease.

While a June 2020 study from the Lancet journal supports the use of face masks in reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection and face shields for eye protection, the health benefits of these protective gear differ from that of getting inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines.

STATEMENT

Asked if the government has reconsidered the mandatory use of face masks and face shields because these entail additional expense for Filipinos, the spokesperson said:

Sa pag-aaral po, talagang nakakatulong po na makaiwas ang kaparehong … face mask and face shield, no? So together, I understand the statistical ...uh… the percentage of helping and avoiding COVID is almost equivalent to having a vaccine.

(Based on studies, both face mask and face shield, right? So together, I understand the statistical ...uh… the percentage of helping and avoiding COVID[-19] is almost equivalent to having a vaccine.)

Source: PTV Philippines Official Facebook Page, WATCH: Press briefing with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque | May 24, 2021, May 24, 2021, watch from 44:54 to 45:20.

The spokesman repeated the claim in a June 3 online briefing, quoting epidemiologist Edsel Salvana as saying that wearing of face shield helps prevent COVID-19 transmission, and asserting that using face mask and face shield and observing physical distancing provide equivalent protection as the vaccines.

FACT

One “cannot equate” the protection from wearing a face mask and face shield to that of getting COVID-19 vaccines, according to physician Anthony Leachon, former special adviser to the National Task Force Against COVID-19, in a phone interview with VERA Files Fact Check. Leachon, an independent health reform advocate, explained that these protective gear do not provide “permanent protection” and “are not meant to produce antibodies to actually create an immune response” unlike what one gets from approved COVID-19 vaccines. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: To boost trust in Sinovac, Roque repeatedly cites wrong data)

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“So it's wrong [to equate protection from face masks and face shields to getting the COVID-19 vaccine],” added Leachon, further explaining that only a wide scale inoculation can lead to a herd immunity and restore the economy to a degree of normalcy.

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A global team of health experts from international non-profit Meedan explained to VERA Files Fact Check that while covering the virus’ entry points such as the mouth, nose, and eyes “reduce[s] the chances of spreading the virus from one person to another,” such gear are “not sufficient to stop transmission.” Hence, vaccination is still needed to prepare a person’s immune system to fight off the virus and reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms, hospitalization, and death.

In response to questions posted on its Health Desk, Meedan’s team of health experts further clarified:

“Masks and vaccines are two different mechanisms of protection, like having a security system outside the house, but also having vaults to secure our valuables. Both are important for safeguarding our bodies. By getting vaccinated, using masks, and socially distancing when in public, we greatly reduce chances for the virus to spread and cause harm, thereby breaking widespread transmission patterns.”

Source: Meedan’s Health Desk, How are vaccines and masks different when it comes to protecting against COVID-19?, June 1, 2021

Advisories from the Department of Health (DOH), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO) show that proper wearing of face masks reduces the transmission of the virus from one person to another.

While the WHO, CDC, and other health ministries do not advise the wearing of face shields, DOH adheres to the “conditional recommendation” of the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (PSMID) for the mandatory use of face shields by the general public, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Singh-Vergeire said in a May 31 interview on CNN Philippines’ The Source.

However, the same guidelines specify its use on top of face masks in areas with “sustained community transmission” of COVID-19.

PSMID has issued a “strong recommendation” for the use of medical face masks and face shields for health care workers both directly and indirectly involved in caring for COVID-19 patients.


Sources

The Lancet, Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis, June 1, 2020

PTV Philippines Official Facebook Page, WATCH: Press briefing with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque | May 24, 2021, May 24, 2021

PTV Philippines Official Youtube Channel, WATCH: Press briefing with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque | June 3, 2021, June 3, 2021

Anthony Leachon, Phone Interview with VERA Files Fact Check, June 1, 2021

World Health Organization, Rational use of personal protective equipment for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and considerations during severe shortages, Dec. 23, 2020

World Health Organization, Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Herd immunity, lockdowns and COVID-19, Dec. 31, 2020

World Health Organization, How do vaccines work?, Dec. 8, 2020

Meedan’s Health Desk, What do we know about claims that masks do not work?, April 21, 2020

Meedan’s Health Desk, About Health Desk, Accessed June 2, 2021

Meedan’s Health Desk, How are vaccines and masks different when it comes to protecting against COVID-19?, June 1, 2021

Department of Health, DOH: ALL COVID-19 VACCINES WITH EUA EFFECTIVE IN PREVENTING SEVERE ILLNESS AND DEATHS; REITERATES THAT THE BEST VACCINE IS THE ONE AVAILABLE, May 20, 2021

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Effectiveness of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Vaccines Against COVID-19 Among Hospitalized Adults Aged ≥65 Years — United States, January–March 2021, May 7, 2021

Department of Health, DOH: WEARING MASKS MAY CUT TRANSMISSION RATE BY 85%, July 10, 2020

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Updated: Guidance for Wearing Masks, April 19, 2021

World Health Organization, Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: When and how to use masks, Dec. 1, 2020

Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, Philippine COVID-19 Living Recommendations, May 28, 2021

CNN Philippines Official Youtube Channel, Health Spokesperson Usec. Maria Rosario Vergeire | The Source, May 31, 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.)

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