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INITIAL TARGET AMONG MOST VULNERABLE: 7,000 TO 13,000

Rollout of second booster doses vs COVID-19 starts

VAX GOES ON People continue to get their COVID-19 vaccine shots in Marikina City on Monday as the government begins administering the second booster dose to the most vulnerable members of the population. STORY: Rollout of second booster dose vs COVID-19 starts

VAX GOES ON | People continue to get their COVID-19 vaccine shots in Marikina City on Monday as the government begins administering the second booster dose to the most vulnerable members of the population. (Photo by NIÑO JESUS ORBETA / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — The government started giving second COVID-19 booster doses for immunocompromised adults on Monday, joining a growing number of Asian nations like South Korea and Singapore that are offering a fourth vaccine shot.

Of 690,000 Filipinos deemed most vulnerable, between 7,000 and 13,000 have initially been targeted for the second round of boosters to increase protection against COVID-19 and its variants.

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“Because of increasing vaccination coverage, while COVID-19 is still there, in the near future we can consider this as an endemic disease,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told a public forum.

The rollout of the second booster dose kicked off in selected hospitals and health centers in Metro Manila, including Philippine Children’s Medical Center, Tala Hospital, Valenzuela Medical Center, and Cembo Health Center in Makati City.

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Immunocompromised individuals may also go to the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) office in Quezon City later this week.

“They only need to coordinate with their local government units. For those in Quezon City, our vaccination site there is open on Thursday and Friday for the booster doses,” PMA president Dr. Benito Atienza said at the Laging Handa public briefing.

“If there will be a surge, they will be first to be affected so the immunocompromised are prioritized. Their immune system is vulnerable,” he added.

Under this category are people with immunodeficiency, HIV, active cancer or malignancy, and other conditions as certified by health professionals. They may also be transplant recipients, bedridden, currently receiving steroid treatment, or have a poor prognosis.

More vaccination sites

The Department of Health (DOH) said more vaccination sites would be open in the coming days.

Earlier, the Food and Drug Administration granted the amendment of the emergency use authorization for specific COVID-19 vaccines to be used as second booster shots for senior citizens, the immunocompromised and front-line health-care workers.

The dose, however, should be given at least four months after the administration of the first booster, since immunity may wane in these priority groups.

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As of April 18, some 66.9 million Filipinos had completed their primary doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, only 12.9 million had received their first booster shot.

Atienza encouraged those who had yet to get a booster dose to do so, especially the elderly. Barangay Health Workers party-list Rep. Angelica Natasha Co, meanwhile, suggested that DOH and local governments allow walk-ins and offer incentives to encourage more people to get boosted a second time. She also batted for the inclusion of barangay workers in the priority groups.

Case bulletin

With 3.68 million cases overall and more than 60,000 deaths, the Philippines has suffered one of the worst COVID-19 crises in Southeast Asia, although new daily infections have fallen significantly.

On Monday, the weekly DOH bulletin showed 1,465 new cases confirmed by laboratory tests last week, or an average of 209 daily cases.

This was 12 percent lower than the previous week’s 1,674 new cases or 239 average daily cases.

But 213 more deaths were confirmed last week, higher than 200 in the previous week. Of the total, 78 occurred this year while 135 happened between August 2020 and December 2021, raising the country’s total death toll to 60,185.

Hospital admissions due to COVID-19 generally remained low, although the number of severe and critical patients went up this week.

As of Monday, there were 726 severe and critical cases out of 5,671 patients admitted in hospitals. This was higher than the 664 severe and critical patients a week ago.

The intensive care unit (ICU) bed utilization for COVID-19 patients slightly went up to 16.9 percent from 15.8 percent a week ago while the non-ICU bed utilization for COVID-19 patients remained unchanged at 16.9 percent.

—WITH REPORTS FROM JANE BAUTISTA, JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE AND REUTERS 

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