Focusing on the percentage or share of the population that has been vaccinated, instead of the total number of vaccine doses administered, makes for better and fairer comparison of the progress of vaccine rollout in various countries.
But Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque still chose an absolute numbers approach in his May 24 press briefing to trumpet that the country ranked second in Southeast Asia in terms of total doses of vaccines administered as of May 23.
Government agencies and officials have a history of presenting misleading COVID-19 related statistics by omitting data, stating claims without data to back them up, cherry-picking countries used for ranking comparison and using ambiguous language and selective statistics.
Roque said in the May 24 briefing:
“Good news po, mahigit apat na milyon or 4,097,425 doses na po ang na-administer na COVID-19 vaccine as of May 23, 2021. Nasa 162,514 ang ating daily rate of doses administered base sa seven-day average as of May 23, 2021.
Kung titingnan ang absolute numbers:
- Number 37 ang Pilipinas sa 196 countries na nag-administer ng COVID-19 vaccines ‘no;
- Number 13 po tayo sa Asya;
- at pagdating po sa ASEAN, tayo po ay pumapangalawa lamang po sa Indonesia
(Good news, more than four million or 4,097,425 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered as of May 23, 2021. And our daily rate of doses administered, based on seven-day average, is at 162,514 as May 23, 2021.
If we look at absolute numbers:
- Philippines ranks 37th out of 196 countries administering COVID-19 vaccines;
- We’re number 13 in Asia;
- And when it comes to ASEAN, we are second only to Indonesia)
He also flashed an infographic that highlighted the country’s rank among the 10 Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) member countries.
The state-run Philippine News Agency also reported the claim that the Philippines ranks second in terms of vaccine rollout in ASEAN countries in its website, Twitter account and Facebook page. It also used the total number of vaccine doses administered instead of the percentage of the population vaccinated as basis.
Dr. Tony Leachon, former special adviser to the National Task Force Against COVID-19, quote tweeted PNA’s infographic on the ranking with the caption:
This must be corrected. This is misleading. This should be based on the percentage of population to the overall goal or target of herd immunity rather than on the administered doses.
While the Philippines did record its highest daily vaccination rate on May 20, only 0.9% of the total population has been fully vaccinated and only 2.9% has received at least the first dose, according to Our World in Data and the National Task Force Against COVID-19.
NTF data correlate with Our World in Data when specifically comparing the population share of those fully vaccinated and those who have received a single dose
Our World in Data also adds a disclaimer that the total count of vaccine doses administered may not be equal to the total number of people vaccinated as different vaccines require different doses.
NTF data correlate with Our World in Data when ranking ASEAN countries by the number of vaccine doses administered
When using percentage metrics to rank countries, the Philippines is ninth--or second to the last--in terms of the share of the population fully vaccinated in ASEAN countries. The country ranks eighth when comparing the share of the population with at least one dose.
Our World in Data paints a different picture when ranking ASEAN countries by the share of population either fully vaccinated or with at least one dose
The latter rankings present a more nuanced comparison of the Philippines’ COVID-19 vaccination progress compared with the high ranking Roque and the PNA publicized.
The 0.9% share of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is also still a far cry from the government target set by vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. to inoculate 70% of the country’s population by the end of the year. Galvez has said he remains optimistic about achieving a daily vaccination rate of at least half a million and achieving herd immunity before the year ends.
The PNA’s Facebook and Twitter posts containing the infographic of Roque’s claim were met with callouts for misleading data presentation.
About a month ago, the Presidential Communications Operations Office also came under fire after a memo ordering government media to show “the Philippines is faring better than many other countries in addressing the pandemic” circulated on social media.
PCOO News and Information Bureau Director Virginia Arcilla-Agtay confirmed the memo’s authenticity, saying, “The President has given the instruction in order to provide adequate information and convey working policies, particularly those that aim to address the effects of the pandemic in the country. There is nothing wrong with this, nor is it a lie, it is simply amplifying facts.”
Agtay also said the country has achieved “a reputable and efficient response to the virus as compared to some developed, more advanced, and less densely populated countries.”
An April 2021 Moody’s Analytics report, however, tags the Philippines as a “laggard” of the Asia-Pacific region as it said “a record-high number of new COVID-19 cases has led to a resumption of strict lockdowns in Metro Manila, and the country faces a severe shortage of vaccines.” (LS)
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