With rules now relaxed, DOH asked to speed up COVID-19 shots for kids
MANILA, Philippines — House Deputy Majority Leader Lorenz Defensor urged the Department of Health (DOH) on Monday to be quicker in formulating a policy on vaccinating children below five years old against COVID-19, considering that health protocols, such as the wearing of face masks, have been relaxed.
Defensor, who represents the Second District of Iloilo, made the call during the deliberation of the House Committee on Appropriations of the proposed 2023 budget of the DOH.
Defensor pointed out that some vaccines already available in the Philippines — specifically, Pfizer and Moderna — were already being used in the United States on children aged six months and above. So why did the Philippines still lack a policy for vaccinating children in that age bracket?
“We are using Pfizer and Moderna vaccines here in the Philippines, made in the United States, where their FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and CDC [Centers for Disease Control] have a policy — a vaccination policy of six months and above,” Defensor told the DOH officer-in-charge, Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.
Having a similar policy, Defensor said, would also the government to maximize vaccine use and avoid spoilage.
“I hope that we could expedite our own policy because pre-schools have opened. We have a relaxed mask policy. I do not want to see that our vaccines have expired, 20 million have expired at the amount of approximately P13 billion,” he noted.
“If the makers of the vaccines that we use here are already vaccinating children six months and above, there is no reason for us to delay any further. We all have children. I have children. And they also need protection since the economy is now more open, especially now that our health protocols have been relaxed,” he added
In response, Vergeire admitted that the DOH still had no such policy.
“As of now, we still do not have any recommendations coming from our experts for the COVID-19 vaccination of [children] less than five year old among the population,” she said.
“We take note of that Honorable Congressman, Madam Vice Chairperson. Actually the health technology assessment is already ongoing, and we already have FDA applications ongoing for the zero to four years old vaccines for COVID-19. We will be submitting data, sir, Madam Vice Chairperson,” she added.
Defensor noted the World Health Organization, recently said that, as of July 24, 2022, a total of 2.47 percent of all COVID-19 cases around the world concern the age bracket they were discussing.
“That is such a big number if you look at the numbers globally — in the US alone, 14 million — because of the Omicron variant,” Defensor said. “Let’s have that sense of urgency to expedite our policy for minors five and below so we can have a better utilization of vaccines, especially Pfizer and Moderna, where the US is already using it.”
The director of the DOH Epidemiology Bureau, Althea de Guzman, confirmed that the Philippines had similar data.
“We’d like to confirm that among all of our cases we have 93,054 cases which were infected which are aged under five. And these comprises around 2.39 percent of all of our cases. What we have observed, Madam Chair, is that, even with increases, the contribution of these age group is relatively the same.”
As of now, only children aged five and above are eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations — in doses of reduced concentration to ensure their safety.
The vaccination of eligible children started last Jan. 2022, but the government has not followed up since then on when children aged lower would receive their shots.
However, a lot of children aged four and below have started to move outdoors, especially with children aged three to four attending day-care centers and nurseries.