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Churches tapped as vaccination sites; minors next in line

/ 05:30 AM August 09, 2021
Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, DD, bishop of the diocese of Caloocan INQUIRER PHOTO / GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David—INQUIRER FILE  PHOTO / GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

MANILA, Philippines — The government is tapping Catholic churches as vaccination centers during the two-week lockdown to help speed up the inoculation of Metro Manila residents and prevent the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 from further spreading.

The government is also planning to start inoculating those below 18 years old starting next month or October following the reported infections among minors.

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Public and private hospitals were swamped with COVID-19 patients as the National Capital Region (NCR) imposed a two-week lockdown to curb the transmission of the highly contagious Delta variant.

“Majority of hospitals are on the brink of (hitting) full capacity, particularly their intensive care units (ICU). We are seeing also younger adults having severe COVID-19,” said Philippine College of Physicians secretary Dr. Rontgene Solante.

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On Sunday, 287 more people were reported to have died from COVID-19, the highest daily death toll since April 9.

About half or 149 of the latest deaths were previously recorded as recovered. COVID-19 has now claimed 29,122 lives.

The Department of Health (DOH) also said that 9,671 more COVID-19 cases were detected, bringing the country’s total known COVID-19 cases to 1,658,916.

The positivity rate, or the percentage of COVID-19 positive tests, was the highest since April 10 after 20.3 percent of the 51,296 people tested last Aug. 6 were infected with the virus.

The surging cases have prompted a government hospital to ask for additional medical workers from the DOH as it tackled COVID-19 infections at full capacity, a situation complicated by the rise in the number of leptospirosis cases.

In an advisory on Sunday, National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) Executive Director Dr. Rose Marie Rosete-Liquete noted an increasing number of COVID-19 and leptospirosis patients.

While she did not give a figure, she said it was enough for NKTI to repurpose its gym for leptospirosis cases and “partially answer our patients’ needs.”

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“Right now, we are in full capacity of our COVID-19 in hospital beds and the five tents, with more than 50 patients at the ER (emergency room),” Rosete-Liquete said.

She added that they would repurpose a number of wards into isolation rooms in the coming weeks, but until then they would have to limit ER admissions only to urgent and renal cases.

New jab centers

As Catholic bishops have suspended public Masses from July 31 to Aug. 20 to keep people at home and help the state tackle the surge in infections, the churches could be repurposed into vaccination centers.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David offered the use of all 30 churches and facilities in Caloocan, Malabon and Navotas as inoculation hubs.

As of Sunday, Kalookan Diocese health care and welfare officer and priest Rene Richard Bernardo said 12 facilities were approved by the local governments to become vaccination centers.

“We also use our (online) Masses and (make) parish announcements to encourage people to get vaccinated ASAP,” Bernardo said.

Backlog

Rosete-Liquete said the full capacity use of NKTI meant some COVID-19 patients would have to transfer to other hospitals like the Jose Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center, Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and the National Center for Mental Health.

NKTI’s pediatric leptospirosis patients were also moved to the National Children’s Hospital.

At PGH, 181 of its 250 COVID-19 beds were filled up.

Solante, also an infectious diseases specialist at the San Lazaro Hospital, said half of its 150 COVID-19 beds and 81 percent of 54 ICU beds were occupied.

The NKTI said it would further reduce its outpatient services starting Monday to be able to reassign staff to more pressing medical cases.

“We then ask from the [DOH] for staff augmentation. Our surgeries are confined only to those who were previously scheduled in the next two weeks and for patients who are already in the hospital so as not to compromise our patients. We had voluminous backlogs in the past [enhanced community quarantine] last year especially on our renal, urologic and vascular cases and we do not want it to happen this year,” Rosete-Liquete said.

Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines Inc. president Dr. Jose Rene de Grano said private facilities were reserving their COVID-19 beds and ICU only for moderate and severe infections.

“Otherwise, all (public and private hospitals) will be overrun,” he said.

Solante also pointed out that most of the admitted COVID-19 patients were unvaccinated.

Kids’ vaccination

At the delivery of 326,400 doses of Moderna on Sunday, National Task Force against COVID-19 chief Carlito Galvez Jr. said the government planned to begin pediatric vaccination by the end of September or October.

Galvez said the situation involving younger children was already brought up with President Duterte and the government’s vaccine experts and that the National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF) was negotiating to buy an additional 26 million doses for pediatric inoculation.

Of the newly delivered Moderna bought by private companies, Galvez said about 90,000 would be allocated to NCR.

The NTF earlier allocated three million Sinovac and Moderna doses to NCR intended to be administered during the two-week lockdown.

As of Sunday, 12.9 million Filipinos have received the first dose of the vaccine, while 11.2 million (15 percent of the target adult population) were fully vaccinated.

—WITH REPORT FROM DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN
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