VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Trillanes’ claim on the status of COVID-19 vaccination programs in Israel, Southeast Asia is misleading, needs context

Read this fact check in Filipino

In his social media accounts on Feb. 1, former senator Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV cited incorrect data on Israel’s coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccination program.

His claim on the vaccination status of the member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) needs context.

STATEMENT

Talking about how the Philippines is lagging behind other Asian countries in rolling out a nationwide vaccination program, Trillanes wrote this on his official Facebook (FB) account:

“Israel already had 50% of their population vaccinated. ASEAN countries have rolled out vaccination programs as well.”

Source: Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV Official Facebook Page, Feb. 1, 2021

He added:

“As for us, mga gov't VIPs pa lang may bakuna, smuggled pa (only government VIPs have received vaccines, and they’re smuggled). Hindi pwedeng ganito (This can’t be). Remember, the fate of our people and our economy is at stake.”

The former lawmaker’s post could have reached 1.5 million people, according to social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle.

Eleven minutes later, Trillanes posted the same statement on his official Twitter account (@TrillanesSonny) that has over 119,000 followers.

FACT

To date, Israel is, in fact, leading the COVID-19 immunization program globally. It launched its own vaccination campaign on Dec. 19, 2020. But it has inoculated only about a third of its people, not half as Trillanes claimed.

As of Feb. 3, the Middle Eastern nation has given the first of two jabs of COVID-19 vaccines to 3,297,502 or about 35% of its 9.29 million overall population, according to the COVID-19 dashboard of Israel’s Ministry of Health. More than half of this count, or 1,906,748 people, have received a second dose of the COVID vaccine.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is largely being used in Israel’s inoculation program, while a few have received Moderna’s drug.

However, the Embassy of Israel in the Philippines told VERA Files Fact Check in an email on Feb. 4 that its country has vaccinated 50% of the eligible population, noting that the goal is to inoculate 6 million people. The embassy said the country does not give the vaccine to people under the age of 16.

In April 2020, children aged 0-14 comprised 28% of Israel’s population, approximately 2.57 million.

Additionally, of the 3.08 million Israelis vaccinated as of Jan. 31, 83% are above 60 years old.

In Southeast Asia, only Indonesia, Singapore, Lao PDR, and Myanmar have begun their vaccination programs as of Feb. 2.

Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam are expecting vaccine supplies in mid- to late February. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health of Brunei said on Jan. 30 that the sultanate will receive doses from AstraZeneca and the COVAX Facility, but it is still “assessing” vaccines from China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac, Moderna, and Pfizer-BioNTech.

The COVAX is an initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO); Gavi, the vaccine alliance; and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Initiative (CEPI) to provide adequate doses of vaccines to more than 190 countries in the world to inoculate at least 20% of their population by the end of 2021.

In the Philippines, among the first batch of coronavirus vaccines expected to arrive by mid-February is from China’s Sinovac BioTech, according to Carlito Galvez Jr., vaccine czar and chief implementer of the National Task Force vs COVID-19.

Meanwhile, WHO Representative in the Philippines Rabindra Abeyasinghe said in a Feb. 1 media forum that the COVAX Facility will deliver approximately 117,000 doses of vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech in the second or third week of February. He said the country expects around 44 million doses of the drug to be delivered within the year.

Pfizer’s vaccine received emergency use listing (EUL) from the WHO on Dec. 31 and the first emergency use authorization for a coronavirus vaccine from the Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Jan. 24.

The country may also get another 5.5 to 9.2 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, pending an EUL from the WHO, in late February or early March, according to Abeyasinghe.

BACKSTORY

News of some high-ranking government officials and members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) getting inoculated with an unauthorized COVID-19 vaccine made the headlines in late December.

In a speech on Dec. 26, Duterte said “almost all” soldiers have received a COVID-19 vaccine although the FDA had yet to approve one at the time.

The AFP then confirmed that some members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) indeed received a COVID-19 vaccine as early as September 2020. Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año also said some Cabinet members had been inoculated with unauthorized vaccines.

On Jan. 4, the President rescinded his statement, claiming he did not know that his PSG escorts “were injected with the vaccine and which brand.” (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Duterte contradicts past pronouncement, Durante on having known about the PSG COVID-19 vaccination - Vera Files and VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Violations, sanctions for people involved in the use of unauthorized vaccines in the Philippines - Vera Files)

The Washington Post reported on Jan. 18 about a black market for COVID vaccines in the Philippines involving an estimated 100,000 Chinese nationals working in the gambling industry.

In a Dec. 26 Inter-Agency Task Force meeting with health experts, FDA Director-General Eric Domingo said his agency conducted “three raids in Makati and Binondo in Manila but did not find any black market seller of COVID vaccines.”

Teresita Ang See, a Filipino-Chinese civic leader, said the vaccines are “presumably priced” between US$200 and US$300 based on advertisements on Chinese media and information from gambling industry worker chat groups.

Trillanes' FB post has received over 3,700 interactions. Based on a search on CrowdTangle, the former senator's statement has been turned into quote cards by various FB pages, including Pinoy Ako Blog and Silent No More PH, and news organization News5, which have gotten around 33,000 interactions cumulatively on FB.

His tweet was also reshared more than 300 times and received over 1,600 likes.


Sources:

World Health Organization, Regulation and Prequalification.

The Embassy of Israel in the Philippines, Personal Communication (email), Feb. 2, 2021

The Embassy of Israel in the Philippines, Personal Communication (email), Feb. 4, 2021

Israel Ministry of Health, קורונה - לוח בקרה

The Times of Israel, Pfizer, Moderna both trying for 3rd dose booster shots to combat virus variants, Jan. 27, 2021

CNN, January 29, 2021 coronavirus news, Jan. 29, 2021

Haaretz, https://www.haaretz.co.il/news/education/1.8799769, April 2020, translated by Noa Barak from The Whistle

ASEAN Briefing, COVID-19 Vaccine Roll Outs in ASEAN & Asia – Live Updates by Country, Feb. 1, 2021

Brunei

Cambodia

Indonesia

Laos

Malaysia

Myanmar

Singapore

Thailand

Vietnam

Philippines

Duterte and PSG vaccinations

United Nations, Population Division

World Bank, Open Data

Nikkei Asia, Charting coronavirus vaccination around the world:Nikkei, Feb. 1, 2021

The New York Times, See Which Country Is Leading the Global Race to Vaccinate, Jan. 25, 2021

Bloomberg, Southeast Asia Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker: Who Gets What, Dec. 31, 2020

Food and Drug Administration, FDA Philippines Grants Emergency Use Authorization to Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine - Food and Drug Administration of the Philippines, Jan. 14, 2021

World Health Organization, WHO issues its first emergency use validation for a COVID-19 vaccine and emphasizes need for equitable global access, Dec. 31, 2020


(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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