No big reversal in virus trends seen due to low vaccination rate

Expect no significant changes in the Philippines’ COVID-19 trends, not until 30 percent to 50 percent of the population have been vaccinated against the coronavirus disease, a fellow of the OCTA Research Group said Wednesday.

No big reversal in virus trends seen due to low vaccination rate
VAX SCENES. Bacolod City Mayor Bing Leonardia (in striped shirt) oversees the vaccination flow at the Ayala Malls Capitol Central on Wednesday as the city received 17,000 additional doses of Sinovac vaccines. Bacolod PIO

Prof. Ranjit Rye, during a Laging Handa briefing, said the current number of vaccinations was still too small to have an effect on the country’s COVID-19 figures.

The Philippines has vaccinated over 4.6 million individuals as of June 8, the Department of Health said, or around 4 percent of the population.

Only 1.6 million people have received both doses or around 1.4 percent.

The government’s goal is to vaccinate at least 58 million people in COVID-19 hotspots by November this year.

“The number of vaccinated individuals nationwide is so low,” Rye said.

“We need something like 30 percent to 50 percent to see significant changes in the trends as far as the epidemic is concerned,” he added.

The DOH earlier said experts also wanted to see at least 30 percent of the population vaccinated before restrictions are loosened for individuals who have completed their doses.

Rye urged the government to stay “eagle eyed” in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, especially in inoculating residents of Metro Manila and neighboring provinces where COVID-19 cases are high.

“If government will stick to the plan, we will have some good news by September, October as far as containment is concerned and if we work really hard together… we will have a better Christmas definitely,” he said.

Rye likewise urged the public to avoid being complacent when it comes to health protocols against COVID-19.

“While the vaccination program is being rolled out and the percentage of vaccinated individuals is still low, we are vulnerable to surges and outbreaks which is why we need to continue being vigilant,” he said.

Manipulation denied

The Department of Health on Wednesday once again denied manipulating its daily COVID-19 data, as they vowed transparency in giving out information, the health department’s chief epidemiologist said Wednesday.

According to DOH Epidemiology Bureau director Dr. Alethea De Guzman, the public was free to analyze COVID-19 data, which is downloadable from the agency’s website.

“We are uploading, on a daily basis, anonymized case line lists… it’s one way for the DOH to ensure [that] we’re not hiding anything. We’re transparent,” she said in an online forum hosted by consulting firm Blueprint.PH.

“If you see something wrong with the data, here’s the data drop. You can check it. If you see inconsistency, please report it to us. We’ll be more than happy to address it and to check,” De Guzman said.

De Guzman admitted that the DOH’s data quality at the start of the pandemic was “poor” and attributed it to the varying capacities of epidemiology and surveillance units.

'Population protection'

The Philippines will achieve "population protection" in Metro Manila and eight other key economic hubs, Malacañang said Wednesday, after Manila Mayor Isko Moreno said herd immunity could not be achieved this year.

The Philippine government aims to vaccinate 500,000 people daily in NCR+8 to achieve herd immunity by November 27, vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr earlier said.

Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje, however, has said the Philippines is now eyeing “population protection” against the novel coronavirus before the end of the year.

“We are shifting to the term 'population protection' through mass immunization kasi po iyong ating herd immunity, marami pong mga kaakibat na mga criteria,” Cabotaje said during a televised public briefing.

“Herd immunity” usually refers to continuous protection, said Cabotaje, who is chairperson of the National Vaccinations Operations Center.

Inoculation of kids

Following the expansion of the emergency use authorization of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to cover individuals aged 12 and above, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the Philippine Pediatrics Society and the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines (PIDSP) have vowed to study the inoculation of children younger than 12 against COVID-19.

At a congressional hearing, Duque stressed that prudence dictated that this matter should still be studied carefully.

Duque said: "It's better to study this further and let the PPS and the PIDSP look into it and they have agreed to conduct a study since this has a lot of implications.”

Duque also clarified that the vaccination of children was not yet included in the government's prioritization framework.

Meanwhile, organizations of pediatric doctors in the Philippines have welcomed the announcement of the Department of Health that the emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will now cover persons aged 12 and up.

Additional vaccine doses

The Philippines will receive more than 3.2 million additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines on Thursday, the head of the country's inoculation strategy said Wednesday, as the government ramps up its vaccination drive marred by shortages and delays.

One million doses from China's Sinovac Biotech and some 2.2 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab from vaccine-sharing platform COVAX Facility are scheduled to arrive, vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said.

According to the National Task Force against COVID-19 (NTF COVID-19), the Sinovac vaccine will arrive in the morning, while the 2,279,160 doses of Pfizer will arrive in the evening.

Galvez said the vaccines would be distributed to other provinces outside the capital region where many of their elderly residents and those with comorbidities were not yet vaccinated.

In particular, Cebu and Davao will each get 210,600 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, while the rest will be allotted for Metro Manila, the NTF COVID-19 said.

Duque's concern

Duque has expressed concern and warned against complacency in the campaign to stop COVID-19 despite the rollout of millions of doses of vaccines during the past months.

According to a report on "24 Oras", hospitals in Mindanao would be ordered to increase their COVID-19 beds to address the sharp increase in cases in the southern Philippines.

"The vaccine optimism is illusory because we still don't have enough vaccines. Yeah, there are vaccines, fine. But are there enough vaccines? No," Duque said.

"We only have less than what? 10 percent of our vaccine given? And only 2 to 2.5 percent of our people have completed their inoculation," he added.

In May, vaccine czar Galvez, Jr. said the government expected to achieve its target of herd immunity in the National Capital Region and nearby provinces by November.

Global patent waiver

A health advocacy group has pushed for a waiver of vaccine patents, hoping to jumpstart production of COVID-19 vaccines in the Philippines, amid the pandemic.

Dr. Joshua San Pedro, co-convenor of the Coalition for People's Right to Health, said temporary exemption from certain obligations under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) will allow the Philippines easier access to the anti-virus shots.

"Definitely, the TRIPS waiver is not a magic wand that suddenly will increase the global supply, but it's a first step. It's going to encourage a lot of local manufacturers to finally have access to such technologies," San Pedro said in an interview with ANC.

"A lot of the problems in manufacturing in a lot of countries, including the Philippines, is also marred by intellectual property barriers. This is something we can overcome through this TRIPS waiver,” he said.

Last year, a global waiver on patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines proposed by South Africa and India was filed at the World Trade Organization to scale up vaccine production and delivery to poorer countries.

No big reversal in virus trends seen due to low vaccination rate
VAX SCENES. Meanwhile, a long queue forms outside the Lucky Chinatown Mall in Binondoß Manila as workers belonging to the A4 group line up—some as early as 1 in the morning—to get their jabs. Norman Cruz

Vaccination success

Senate Minority Franklin Drilon warned the high rate of people who failed to complete COVID-19 doses could undermine vaccination success.

He expressed serious concerns about the high percentage of people who did not return for their second dose of COVID-19 vaccines, saying it could undermine the country’s vaccination program.

Drilon likewise hit the government’s sluggish vaccination program with only 1.2 million Filipinos who completed their first and second doses as of June 2, putting the government far short of its target to vaccinate at least 70 million of the population.

“The government must ramp up its vaccination drive and increase its daily vaccination rate. Because at the rate it is going now, I do not see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Drilon said.

Senator Christopher Go reminded vaccinated individuals to complete their COVID-19 doses as he suggested for the intensification of the vaccine information campaign to encourage them to get their second dose.

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