Experts back ‘sectoral, geographic’ vaccination
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines will not achieve herd immunity if only 53 percent of its population gets the COVID-19 vaccine this year, but that number should be enough to significantly reduce hospitalization and jump-start the economy, according to health experts.
Health officials, however, said the government could employ targeted immunization to cope with the delay in the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines.
“Herd immunity can only be reached if more than 70 percent of the population is inoculated. [But] the limited vaccine supply will really [affect] our goal to reach [that],” said infectious diseases expert Dr. Rontgene Solante.
“In practice, it is hard to inoculate 67 million (to 70 million) Filipinos Asap, so vaccination rollout may be recalibrated frequently to prioritize high density areas and vulnerable populations,” said health systems specialist Dr. Albert Domingo.
At the Laging Handa public briefing on Wednesday, Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje, head of the National COVID-19 Vaccination Operations Center, said the government could employ the already ongoing “sectoral” vaccination.
She recalled that following the surge of cases last month, the government decided to simultaneously vaccinate three priority sectors, namely the health workers (A1), people with comorbidities (A2), and senior citizens (A3) in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, which received 60 to 70 percent of the first batch of vaccine deliveries.
“This means (people) who are most at risk and most vulnerable will be the first [to get their shots],” Cabotaje said.
The other strategy, which vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. has proposed to President Duterte, is “geographic” vaccination, which prioritizes Metro Manila, nearby provinces and economic centers Cebu, Davao and Baguio City.
Even with more delays in the arrival of procured vaccines, these economic centers that have been hit hard by pandemic would be able to flourish again, Cabotaje said.
Professor Ranjit Rye of the independent OCTA Research group said it has also been advocating for a targeted vaccination to achieve immunity even at a “regional” level, but only on the assumption that all healthcare workers across the country have already been vaccinated.
1M doses for BPOs
And while the 70 percent overall target should remain, Rye said a lower but targeted vaccination could allow the economy to reopen while the country waits for enough vaccine supplies.
Over a million COVID-19 vaccines are expected to arrive starting the second quarter which, at two doses each, would be enough to vaccinate almost half of the 1.3 million workforce in the Information Technology and Business Process Management (IT-BPM) industry.
“Deliveries of AstraZeneca, Moderna and Novavax (vaccines) are expected to begin toward the latter part of [the second quarter] and continue throughout the second half of the year,” said a statement released by the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines (Ibpap).
Final definition of ‘A4’
While Ibpap did not provide a breakdown of the orders per brand, it said a million of these vaccines would come from Moderna through the vaccine initiative of the International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) Foundation.
With the arrival of more vaccines this month, Cabotaje said the vaccination of essential workers (A4) could already commence in the priority areas.
“We are just waiting for the final definition [of A4] and the final guidelines from the National Economic [and] Development Authority on who should be included. There is already a list but some sectors are still appealing to be included,” she said.
Through a tripartite agreement initiated by the ICTSI, the country ordered 20 million vaccines, with 13 million doses allotted to the national government and 7 million allotted to the private sector. (See related story on this page.)
“When we set out to establish the tripartite agreement with the government and Moderna, we knew that half the battle would be in finding and engaging the right collaborators to accomplish the incredible feat of disbursing the seven million doses allotted for the private sector,” said Rafael Jose Consing Jr., ICTSI senior vice president and chief finance officer.
Ibpap said the other consolidators who took part in this joint effort included the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, the Management Association of the Philippines, and the Makati Business Club.
“We cannot underscore enough the importance of a timely, efficient and widespread rollout of the vaccine in the continued growth of the Philippine IT-BPM industry,” said Rey E. Untal, president and CEO of Ibpap.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.