MANILA – The Philippines would not open its borders just yet even after several nations already rolled out their vaccination programs against COVID-19 among their citizens, Health Secretary Francisco Duque told lawmakers Monday.
"[R]ight now, the policy of the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases), based on the recommendation of our experts, is that they will continue to follow all these existing protocols. They will not be exempted just because they have been vaccinated because as earlier pointed out. It is not yet clear nor there is [sufficient] body of evidence or data to show that the vaccines can actually prevent transmission," Duque said in response to a lawmaker's query.
The Health chief noted that vaccines may stop symptoms from manifesting, but evidence that they prevent transmission "is not sufficient."
Infectious diseases expert Edsel Salvaña, member of the DOH Technical Advisory Group, seconded Duque's position.
"If we actually have a vaccine that is proven to be 100 percent transmission blocking, then anybody who is vaccinated with it should be able to travel freely. They don't need to wait for everybody kasi hindi ka na nakakahawa. Pero yun talaga yung problem eh. Kasi even like for Moderna, right now, what evidence we have, limited evidence, is, maybe it prevents two-thirds of asymptomatic infection. May one-third pa rin yun, so hindi pa rin tayo makakasigurado," Salvaña said.
"It's more important that we have transmission blocking vaccine which for now, we don't have that data yet," he added.
Salvaña stressed that the most important part of the vaccination program is the prevention of severe disease and to save the vulnerable population.
VACCINE ROLL OUT
Meanwhile, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said the vaccination among Filipinos will be rolled out beginning next month.
"Kailangan dapat yung preparations natin matapos this coming January kasi ang roll out natin, magsimula po tayo in the middle or early February," Galvez said.
But he added that the passage of Bayanihan 3 would be crucial in order to cover indemnification for those who will be suffering from adverse effects of the vaccine.
"Kailangan natin ng Bayanhihan 3. Kailangan natin ng indemnification law... We need a law to be tax exempted, at the same time, Customs duties mawala na po," Galvez said.
Duque told lawmakers that the government is eyeing "house-to house vaccinations" for senior citizens and others in the vulnerable sectors.
"Yung house to house, posibleng gagawin natin, kasama na sa pagpaplano doon sa mga very, very vulnerable at high-risk senior citizens. But this is more of an exception rather than the rule. Kasi kinakailangan din natin bantayan yung post-immunization surveillance, monitoring and recording of adverse events following immunization," Duque said.