A woman receives a BioNTech-Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine in Makati City, suburban Manila on November 29, 2021. ( AFP / TED ALJIBE)

Outdated news report misleads on Covid booster jab safety

Copyright AFP 2017-2023. All rights reserved.

As the Philippines launched its Covid-19 booster shot campaign, a screenshot of a news report circulated in social media posts that claimed the health department warned the vaccines were dangerous. The posts are misleading; the news report was broadcast in November, when authorities warned the public against seeking boosters before they had been approved. The Philippine health chief said approved jabs were safe and effective.

The screenshot was shared on Facebook on December 20.

It shows a news report with the logo of Philippine broadcaster GMA News alongside the Tagalog-language news ticker: "DOH'S WARNING TO THOSE WHO RECEIVED A COVID VACCINE BOOSTER SHOT: THE GOVERNMENT IS NOT ACCOUNTABLE IN CASE OF ANY UNTOWARD REACTION".

DOH is the acronym for the Philippine Department of Health.

Text underneath the screenshot reads: "WARNING FROM THE DOH TO THOSE WHO HAD A BOOSTER SHOT".

The Facebook post claims the news report shows that the DOH "does not feel confident about dangerous vaccines".

Screenshot of misleading post taken on December 31, 2021

The post circulated after the DOH announced all fully-vaccinated adults were eligible for booster shots from December 3, as an Omicron-driven surge loomed in one of Asia's most virus-striken countries.

Screenshots from the same news report circulated in similar Facebook posts here, here and here.

"You forced the vaccine [on us] and then if something happens, you can't be held accountable? How dare you", one person commented.

"See? It's because you're all afraid of Covid when it's just a hoax. You don't believe the vaccines are dangerous", another wrote.

However, the posts are misleading.

Outdated report

Keyword searches on YouTube found the screenshots were taken from a news report aired on November 12 on GMA News. At the time, the Philippine Food and Drug Administration had not yet authorised any booster dose for public use.

The report states: "The DOH warned those who Covid got booster shots that are not yet authorised in the Philippines.

"According to Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, the government is not accountable for any possible untoward reactions for those injected with booster shots.

"The FDA is still reviewing the applications of Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sinovac at Sputnik V for amended emergency use authorisation that would allow the use of these vaccines as booster shots."

The FDA authorised Pfizer, Moderna, Sinovac and AstraZeneca booster doses on November 15, three days after the report aired.

Healthcare workers were first to receive boosters on November 17. The DOH expanded the rollout on December 3 to include all fully-vaccinated adults.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the screenshot in the misleading post (left) and the 17-second mark of the GMA News report (right).

'Boosters are safe'

Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque has said that Covid-19 booster shots are "safe and effective".

"Because we now have the emergency use authorisation amendment issued by the FDA, at least now we can be sure that our booster dose policy is safe and effective. That is why we are implementing it starting today," Duque said at the 32:40 mark of this live broadcast during the booster rollout for health workers on November 17.

The Philippines enacted a law in February 2021 to manage Covid vaccine administration in the country.

Under the law, the government set up a fund to compensate possible serious side effects from Covid-19 jabs used in the immunisation programme.

Vergeire told AFP that booster jabs were covered by the scheme.

As of January 3, the Philippines had administered more than 1.9 million booster doses.