Gov’t revises COVID-19 vaccination target due to tight supply of doses
MANILA, Philippines — The government will aim for “population protection” against the worst effects of COVID-19 while waiting for more vaccines intended for achieving herd immunity and preventing the spread of the coronavirus causing the severe respiratory disease, Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje said at the Laging Handa briefing on Wednesday.
This is the reason the government had shifted the vaccination program’s focus on priority sectors in the National Capital Region, two other major cities and six key provinces, known collectively as “NCR Plus 8,” to prevent severe cases and to jump-start the economy, Cabotaje said.
“So, the term we use is really ‘population protection.’ We prevent hospitalization, we prevent and minimize deaths by prioritizing [areas]. And the bigger the population that is vaccinated, we have population protection, so there will be no more transmission,” Cabotaje said.
In case the virus is still transmitted, the persons infected would only have mild symptoms, she said.
Herd immunity is achieved when a big enough portion of the population had grown immune to a disease. Health authorities say this should be around 70 percent of the population.
Cabotaje said the government had targeted to vaccinate that many Filipinos by the end of this year or early next year.
8.2M shots so far
But based on Department of Health (DOH) figures as of last week, the country had so far procured only 8,279,050 shots from Sinovac (5.5 million) AstraZeneca (2,556,000) Pfizer (193,050) and Gamaleya (30,000). That is enough for a single dose for only 7.54 percent of the population.
Cabotaje said the new population protection approach was adopted due to the tight global supply of vaccines and the surge in cases in India, which was delaying the country’s orders for Indian-made vaccines.
She said the government “refocused” its target “a bit” to 50 percent to 60 percent and concentrated it on NCR Plus 8 “to speed up mass vaccination and population protection in a geographic setting.”
In addition to Metro Manila, these critical areas include Metro Cebu, Metro Davao, Bulacan, Pampanga, Rizal, Cavite, Laguna and Batangas.
If 10 million to 15 million shots continue to arrive in the coming months, the government must be able to administer 300,000 to 500,000 doses a day, or 1 million to 2 million weekly. That would help achieve population protection, Cabotaje said.
She said 4.95 million jabs have so far been administered, 3.4 million of them as the first dose and the rest as the second shot.
Cabotaje said 85 percent of health-care workers comprising the priority group A1 nationwide had received the first dose. It was 97 percent for the A1 group in Metro Manila. Only 1.1 million seniors, or 12 percent of the A2 group, had been vaccinated.
The government is now gearing to vaccinate front-liners in essential sectors (A4) and indigents (A5) next month.
Citing data from the National Economic and Development Authority, Cabotaje said that of the total 22.4 million belonging to the A4 group nationwide, around 13 million could be found in NCR Plus 8 where there are around 8.5 million eligible recipients from the A5 group.
Catholic priest Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, a molecular biologist and fellow of the independent OCTA Research group, agreed that inoculating the NCR Plus 8 population first was “significantly better than the whole of the country approach,” especially given the fewer vaccines that are available in the country.
The group of academics said the government must ramp up its daily vaccinations to achieve its minimum “best goal” to contain virus transmission in NCR Plus 8 by the end of the year.
It also recommended the extension of general community quarantine (GCQ) for two more weeks in NCR Plus 8, despite a decline in the daily number of COVID-19 cases.
While retaining the GCQ, some restrictions may be eased such as increasing the number of customers or workers in an establishment, especially for businesses that were “responsible” enough to follow minimum health protocols, the group said on Wednesday.
The group said it did not want to give the wrong message and people might become “very complacent” if modified GCQ were to be adopted in June.
“While we believe that we can relax restrictions, we think that we should try to retain the GCQ at this time because the cases are still significant,” said OCTA fellow Guido David.
The DOH on Wednesday recorded 5,310 additional cases, increasing the country’s total case count to 1,193,979.
It said 7,408 recovered, bringing the number of survivors to 1,127,770. But 150 died, raising the death toll to 20,169.
The deaths and recoveries left 46,037 active cases, of which 92.5 percent were mild, 2.1 percent asymptomatic, 1.7 percent critical, 2.2 percent severe and 1.51 percent moderate.
The health department said four laboratories failed to submit their data on time.
—WITH REPORTS FROM MARICAR CINCO AND PATRICIA DENISE M. CHIU
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