PH vaccine rollout still slow; lag likely caused COVID-19 case spike – World Bank
MANILA, Philippines — The slow pace and low rate of vaccination compared to its neighbors may be to blame for the spread of the more contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 in the Philippines, according to the World Bank.
In a report published on Wednesday, the World Bank’s Philippine office said “vaccination continued to lag regional peers” in the Philippines.
“The slower vaccination and higher mobility during the holiday season are the likely causes why the Philippines is one of the first to experience an Omicron variant surge in the region, recording higher cases per capita than other Asean countries, as of Jan. 11,” the multilateral lender noted.
Separate data from investment banking giant Goldman Sachs showed that the Philippines was among Asia-Pacific’s laggards in mass vaccination, with only 54 percent of its population fully vaccinated as of Jan. 13.
In comparison, China has a vaccination rate of 90 percent as of last week; Singapore, 89 percent; South Korea, 87 percent; Australia, Japan, and Vietnam, 80 percent; Malaysia and Taiwan, 79 percent; New Zealand, 78 percent; Thailand, 73 percent; Hong Kong, 67 percent; India, 65 percent, and Indonesia, 63 percent, Goldman Sachs noted in a Jan. 14 report.
The World Bank nonetheless said that despite the rise in infections, the severity of new cases appeared to be milder than previous surges, and the national hospital bed occupancy rate remained manageable at 38.1 percent as of Jan. 10.
However, it warned that the move a notch higher to alert level 3 imposed throughout the month of January would have economic costs.
For instance, the World Bank tagged the emergence of the Omicron variant as a key risk to sustaining months of manufacturing growth.
Estimates of President Duterte’s economic team had shown that alert level 3 restrictions in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces accounting for half of the economy would cost P3 billion in production losses a week.
‘Too slow, too late’
Tapping the private sector in the government’s vaccination drive could have helped speed up the process, but House senior citizens panel chair and Senior Citizens Rep. Rodolfo Ordanes described the recent decision to tap major drugstore chains in the vaccination rollout as “too slow and too late,” although still better late than never.
“I have suggested the involvement of drugstores or pharmacy chains in the national vaccination program even before. I urged the authorities to do this as early as May 13, 2021, or nine months ago,” Ordanes said in a statement on Wednesday.
He added that tapping pharmacy chains in the COVID-19 vaccination rollout was considered a “best practice” by other nations and that the government was too slow in adopting this.
The United States, for instance, rolled out its COVID-19 vaccination in major pharmacies and supermarkets to make jabs available to its citizens.
“The national government’s decision-makers and implementers have been too slow and lacking foresight in involving the drugstores in COVID-19 vaccination, super late. But better late than never,” Ordanes said.
He said the initial participation of seven pharmacies would “speed up the campaign for primary dosing and boosters” for both adults and minors.
Ordanes added that the people’s familiarity with well-known pharmacy chains such as Mercury Drug and Watsons could “help encourage those who are still hesitant about getting vaccinated.”
The lawmaker made the remarks a day ahead of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in seven pharmacies in Metro Manila.
Presidential Adviser on COVID-19 Response Vivencio “Vince” Dizon said on Wednesday that the government was counting on the success of the pilot-testing of the plan to have several drugstores and pharmacies administer booster doses and for some clinics to administer the primary doses.
“The objective of this is to really make the vaccines more accessible to our countrymen so that we can speed up the vaccination and we can inoculate more people,” he added.
Dizon earlier said several government-run vaccination sites have either closed down or were suffering from dwindling manpower after many vaccinators got sick while other doctors and nurses assigned there were recalled to man COVID-19 wards in government hospitals during the surge.
He added that the government was resuming its mass immunization drive to achieve the target of 77 million fully vaccinated Filipinos by the end of the first quarter once the threat of the Omicron variant has diminished.
Dizon, who is also National Task Force Against COVID-19 deputy chief implementer, reiterated that the government had enough vaccine supplies for everyone, pointing out that the slow inoculation rate in some regions, such as the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, was due to geographic constraints.
—WITH A REPORT FROM JEROME ANING
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