The pandemic has intensified some governments’ pursuit of even more control over our lives, and access to vaccines has been used as a tool to take revenge on businesses seen as a threat to public health. An odious draft private sector vaccine procurement ban in the Philippines is a great example of how far policymakers can go if allowed to push their paternalistic agenda.
The proposed prohibition states that the Filipino National Task Force (NFT) and Department of Health (DOH) would review all requests from private companies who wish to procure vaccines and ensure these businesses are not “related to the tobacco industry, products covered by the National Code of Marketing of breast milk substitutes, breast milk supplement and other related products or other products in conflict with public health.”
Although fortunately, the ban was dropped by the Philippine government in the end, the fact that such ideas have a place in a world crippled by the pandemic is alarming. The rollout of vaccines has given us a chance to revitalize global prosperity and attempts to block those efforts by channeling the nanny state endanger our global wellbeing. As of March 31st, only 0.67% of Filipinos were vaccinated compared to 60.60% in Israel. The unethical paternalism that lies at the core of the proposed Philippine government ban would have slowed down the vaccine rollout even more.
Be it sin taxes, vaccine procurement bans, or various marketing bans, the underlying goal behind such interventions is to prevent consumers from making certain choices and scapegoat the supply side. Moreover, most of the time, the origin of these restrictions can be traced back to the World Health Organization’s recommendations.
The said ban demonstrates this very explicitly: it targeted breast milk substitutes for a reason. In August 2020, Francisco Tiongson Duque III, the Philippines Health Secretary, called on Filipino women with suspected and/or confirmed COVID-19 to continue breastfeeding. The secretary’s rhetoric mirrors that of the WHO and UNICEF, who stressed the importance of remaining committed to exclusive breastfeeding even during the pandemic.
The WHO’s witch hunt after breastmilk substitutes is hardly new. In March 2020, together with UNICEF and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), the WHO urged countries to ban the promotion of breast milk substitutes, including advertising and distribution of free samples while also pressing women to continue breastfeeding.
In a piece I wrote last year, I argued that, while the WHO deserves praise for drawing attention to the important issue of breastfeeding, pressuring women to continue to breastfeed during the COVID-19 pandemic while at the same time denying them information on alternatives is inhumane. Our lifestyle freedoms are fragile and hence easy targets for the WHO and alike interventions.
It is not the job of the government to decide how to breastfeed, and neither is it to prevent businesses it simply doesn’t like from getting the COVID vaccine. The Philippines’ draft ban is a lesson in how far the nanny state can go. As we move forward, it is crucial to remember that if it weren’t for the WHO’s covering up of China’s lies about the pandemic, we wouldn’t be spending our days in lockdowns, and thousands of deaths would have been avoided. As such, the WHO is hardly the best source of advice on breastfeeding and lifestyle freedoms.
By Maria Chaplia, Research Manager at the Consumer Choice Center