Philippines community raffles off bags of rice to boost vaccine drive

MANILA – A community in the Philippines has been raffling off huge sacks of rice in exchange for getting vaccinated against COVID-19, after finding it hard to persuade people to get their shots.

Twenty weekly winners who get their shots in Sucat on the outskirts of the capital Manila have been taking home a 25 kg (55 pound) sack of rice each.

Local official Jeramel Mendoza said the initiative was targeting mainly poorer residents, who were not so keen on vaccinations.

“Initially, when we conducted our vaccination drive, there were very few people signing up. So we asked ourselves why?” he said.

“Why are those rich people or those who live in exclusive villages able to lead the vaccinations, but our poorer sectors do not to join in or participate?”

Sucat village officials said since starting the initiative at end-May, they have been administering their daily quota of vaccines of up to 2,000 doses, whereas before they were giving only about 400 doses a day.

“It’s a nice initiative and I feel safer after being vaccinated. I’m happy I got vaccinated while winning some rice,” said Almond Gregorio, a firefighter and holder of a winning raffle ticket.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this month appealed to the public to get vaccinated, after data showed the government was far behind on its immunisation targets as it battles one of Asia’s longest-running outbreaks.

This week, Duterte showed less patience, threatening in a televised address on Monday to jail people who refuse to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

About 2 million of the Philippines’ population of nearly 110 million are fully inoculated against COVID-19 so far, although the country has had difficulties securing vaccine supplies.

A survey of 1,200 Filipinos in May by independent pollster Social Weather Stations showed only a third were willing to be vaccinated, while a third were hesitant over concerns about side effects or the overall efficacy of vaccines.

The Philippines has ordered 113 million vaccination doses from five manufacturers, but so far it has mostly been giving shots of China’s Sinovac vaccine.

In Sucat, housewife and another prize winner, Louilyn Tubice, said of the local initiative: “It’s delightful because you get to be vaccinated and also receive a bag of rice.” — Reuters