More than 12 million Filipinos have received their booster shots since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its inoculation for the general population last December 2021. However, it is concerning that some Filipinos remain hesitant in getting their booster doses.
Currently, the Department of Health (DOH) is in close coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO) to know more about the recently discovered Omicron XE variant – a recombinant of BA.1, which is the original strain of Omicron, and BA.2 or a subvariant of the same virus .
Fortunately, our country seems to be more prepared since we have more than 66 million fully vaccinated Filipinos and a more resilient healthcare system.
However, we still need to do our part in strengthening our wall of protection against emerging COVID-19 variants through getting boosted with effective vaccines once we meet the minimum criteria, three months after receiving our second primary COVID-19 vaccine dose.
This is important because the country could inevitably face another surge of COVID-19 cases, like Hongkong, South Korea, and Vietnam because of waning immunity and the ability of the Omicron BA.2 to evade antibodies that were produced by current vaccines.
How do booster doses work?
We’re seeing a semblance of normalcy in our communities as the economy continues to gradually recover from the pandemic. Latest weekly reports from the DOH show that we are now in a more manageable level thanks to vaccines.
However, immunity, or the number of antibodies produced by the body after getting vaccines decline over at least 6 months. Lower antibodies count against COVID-19 will decrease our body’s capability to counter the virus.
This is where boosters come in.
A COVID-19 booster dose is an additional dose of a vaccine given once the protection from the initial doses begin to decrease over time. One additional shot helps in maintaining optimal protection against the severe effects of the virus.
Getting primed and boosted is our first line of defense against the severe effects of COVID-19. It also helps in breaking the chain of transmission within our families and communities, ensuring more lives are protected.
Why is there a shadow of doubt
Despite the benefits of booster doses, only about 12 million out of 44 million qualified Filipinos received their booster doses. The National Vaccine Operations Center (NVOC) thinks that fully vaccinated Filipinos have become more complacent under the belief that two doses are enough against COVID-19
Apart from complacency, many Filipinos remain concerned about the side-effects of the approved COVID-19 vaccines by the FDA. For example, some Filipinos are not keen on having mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines, such as the COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna, as their booster shot due to alleged risk of myocarditis or inflammation of the heart muscle. The proliferation of false information about the vaccines also contribute to hesitance, leading Filipinos to be unconvinced about the benefits of booster doses.
To set the record straight, it is riskier to get COVID-19 than getting a booster dose. Firstly, getting infected with COVID-19 increases the risk of myocarditis 4x to 8x in all ages . However, the overall risk of getting myocarditis after getting an mRNA vaccine is extremely low which is about 1 in 200,000 population .
Addressing doubts against booster doses
There are legitimate concerns regarding our current roster of COVID-19 vaccines since all of them are still under the limitations set by their emergency use authorization (EUA) letters from the FDA.
However, real-world results show that these vaccines, especially mRNA vaccines, are effective against severe hospitalization and death against COVID-19. For example, in Singapore, it was found that the COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna is the most effective in preventing COVID-19 related deaths in the country. This tells us that mRNA vaccines are effective booster doses to prevent the severe complications of the virus .
Education can encourage more Filipinos to get their booster doses, bolstering our national vaccination program.
Following recent guidelines by the World Health Organization, we need to do our part in addressing these concerns to encourage more Filipinos to get their boosters. It is paramount that the national government enacts proactive measures to protect more Filipinos against the virus. Updating the definition of a fully vaccinated individual as someone who has been given a booster shot is a good start .
Ensuring optimal protection
It is crucial for qualified Filipinos to get their booster shots to ensure maximum protection against COVID-19 and its variants. Unlike before, the Philippines has a full supply of various vaccines such as mRNA which are empirically proven to be effective boosters based on real-world evidence.
Apart from increasing antibodies in the body, a booster shot can help train our immune system, particularly the B-cells which produce these antibodies, to remember how to fight the virus.
Booster doses can help the Philippines quickly respond to emerging variants and ensure our healthcare capacity will not overheat. The latter gives more room for Filipinos with other communicable diseases to get the proper treatment.
Once the second booster dose is approved and implemented by the government, it is important for the most vulnerable populations, medical frontliners, seniors, and persons with compromised immune systems, to get their second shot. This ensures that if we have another surge in the coming months, they can still be protected from the virus’ severe effects .
Protection against COVID-19 is essential in ensuring we will have more time and opportunity to be with our loved ones, friends, and communities. Once eligible, I implore the public to get their booster doses the soonest to ensure optimal protection not just ourselves but also our family, community, and loved ones.
(Dr. Rontgene Solante is the head of the Adult Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine unit of the San Lazaro Hospital and a member of the Vaccine Expert Panel of the Department of Health.)
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Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.