Marcos to extend state of public health emergency

TWOGETHER President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and son Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand Alexander get a booster shot at SM Manila during the launch of the PinasLakas campaign of the Department of Health. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

PRESIDENT Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is likely to extend the state of public health emergency because of the Covid-19 pandemic until December.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the “PinasLakas” vaccination campaign at SM City Manila, Marcos said he discussed with Department of Health (DoH) Officer in Charge (OIC) Maria Rosario Vergeire the possible extension of the state of public health emergency “until the end of the year.”

“We were just discussing it with [Health OIC] Vergeire because maraming mga binibigay sa international medical community kapag (Because many supplies are given to the international medical community when there is) state of emergency. WHO (World Health Organization) is one of them,” Marcos said during a chance interview.

“At kung itigil natin 'yung state of emergency, matitigil 'yun (If we lift the state of emergency, the delivery of vaccines will stop),” he added.

The President said that there was also a plan to amend the law on government procurement “in the middle of an emergency.”

He was referring to Republic Act (RA) 11525 or the act expediting the vaccine procurement and administration process.

“But that will take time. So most likely we will extend it until the end of the year,” Marcos said.

Former president Rodrigo Duterte first declared a state of public health emergency on March 8, 2020, after the Health department reported the first local transmission of Covid-19.

Under Proclamation 922, the declaration remains “in force and effect” until withdrawn or lifted by the President.

Duterte issued on March 16, 2020, Proclamation 929, declaring a state of calamity for six months due to Covid-19. In September 2020, Duterte extended the state of calamity for another year, or until Sept. 12, 2021, through Proclamation 1021. It was again extended for one year from Sept. 13, 2021 to Sept. 12, 2022.

On the other hand, the lifting of the state of public health emergency will invalidate the emergency use authorization and compassionate special permits issued by the Food and Drug Administration for Covid-19 vaccines.

Go Negosyo founder Jose Maria “Joey” Concepcion 3rd has been asking the government to lift the public health emergency as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has classified the Philippines as a low-risk country amid the pandemic.

The CDC has given the Philippines a Level 1 classification, which is reserved for countries that have 49 or fewer new cases per 100,000 residents over the last 28 days.

Concepcion, former presidential adviser for entrepreneurship, earlier said that lifting the public health emergency would help the country return to normal activities and increase the mobility and capacity of businesses.

“Lifting the state of public health emergency would promote confidence among the population,” he said.

The DoH earlier said that it will recommend the lifting of the state of calamity if the Covid-19 Vaccination Program Act is amended and more booster shots are administered.

“So in terms of the state of calamity, we did not recommend to the President, but we discussed with him the current Covid situation, and we told him that if we can improve the wall of immunity in our population, meaning if we have increased the coverage for the first boosters, and then we can already implement lesser restrictions across the population and that would include the state of calamity that has been issued through the [Executive Order],” Vergeire said during the Senate health and demography committee's hearing on Monday.

“We would want that, in the amendment of RA 11525, we are proposing that all of these considerations be included already so that if the President decides to lift the state of calamity, we are assured that our Covid vaccine deployment program will continue, benefits for health care workers will be discussed and we'll be given other options and also, of course, the tax exemptions and emergency procurement can still be done,” she said.

As of August 16, there were 3,838,062 Covid-19 cases nationwide. Of this number, 36,190 are active.

More than 72 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Rontgene Solante said that it would be advantageous for the Philippines to extend the state of public health emergency.

“The assistance from the WHO and other countries will be given faster, such as the vaccines that have benefitted the population,” Solante said.

He added that the country still needs vaccines with emergency use authorization as it continues its booster vaccination program.

Solante said that the extended state of public health emergency could also hasten the delivery of a bivalent vaccine that contains both the original Wuhan strain and the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Vaccine manufacturer Moderna said that it aims to register its bivalent vaccine first in the United Kingdom by October of this year.

According to preprint data, the bivalent vaccine offers increased protection against the BA.1, BA.4 and the BA.5 subvariants.

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