MANILA - The Philippines may see another surge in COVID-19 cases if the government fails to improve the number of people who have received booster shots against the coronavirus, one of President Rodrigo Duterte's advisers said Monday.
Several Filipinos were infected with the omicron variant in early 2022, which may explain why the number of fresh COVID-19 cases has not yet spiked despite Halalan 2022 campaign activities in full swing, Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion told state television PTV.
"Ang posibleng surge, baka nasa second half [ng 2022] kung hindi tataas yung booster natin," he said.
(The next possible surge might happen in the second half of 2022 if the number of booster shots administered would not improve.)
"In time, kung hindi sila magbu-booster, magwe-wane ulit 'yan (immunity) at we will be at risk," he added.
(In time, if they would not avail of boosters, their immunity would wane and we will be at risk.)
As of March 24, the Philippines has administered around 11.74 million booster doses. The country has fully vaccinated some 65.52 people.
"'Yung primary doses, walang problemal Tumataas [ang number] Pero malayo pa rin ang booster shots at alam naman natin na nagwe-wane ang primary doses," Concepcion said.
(We have no problem with our primary doses because these numbers are increasing. But our booster numbers are far behind, and we know that protection from primary doses tend to wane.)
"Dapat kunin na ang booster dahil ang iba diyan, mage-expire na sa June," he said.
(They have to avail of booster doses because some of those jabs will expire by June.)
Concepcion said he is not in favor of lifting COVID-19 alert levels, even though businesses are expected to thrive more when health protocols are further eased.
"Kailangan at least 70-80 percent [of the population fully vaccinated] bago natin tanggalin yung emergency health status," he said.
(We need to have at least 70-80 percent of the population fully vaccinated before we remove the emergency health status.)
Even under the lowest alert level in the Philippines, face masks must still be worn in public spaces, while establishments only allow fully vaccinated individuals to shop and dine indoors.
Despite the low COVID-19 numbers at this point, the Philippines cannot afford to be complacent as carelessness may lead to another lockdown, Concepcion said.
Businesses in the country are starting to get back on their feet and banks are beginning to gain more confidence in lending again to micro-entrepreneurs, he said.
"Hindi tayo puwede mag-lockdown ulit kasi mawawala 'yung momentum," he said.
(We cannot have another lockdown because we will lose our momentum.)
The Department of Health (DOH) earlier asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to amend the emergency use authorization of some vaccine brands so they can be administered as a fourth dose to selected groups by the end of April.
"High risk" and "vulnerable" groups – such as health care workers, senior citizens and immunocompromised people are expected to be prioritized in the administration of a 4th dose, said Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje.
The agency is also studying if the COVID-19 vaccine needs to be given annually, she said.