DOH says COVID-19 vaccination program still aligned with WHO roadmap

Raphael Bosano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 29 2023 06:57 PM

A health worker prepares Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines inside a mall in Makati City a day after the Department of Health (DOH) issued guidelines for its nationwide rollout on July 28, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File.
A health worker prepares Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines inside a mall in Makati City a day after the Department of Health (DOH) issued guidelines for its nationwide rollout on July 28, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File.

MANILA – The Department of Health (DOH) said its current vaccination program against COVID-19 remains in line with the revised vaccination roadmap of the World Health Organization (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization.

On March 28, the WHO SAGE revised its roadmap for prioritizing the use of COVID-19 vaccines to reflect the impact of the globally dominant omicron variant and high level of population immunity from both previous infection and vaccination.

“The revised roadmap re-emphasizes the importance of vaccinating those still at-risk of severe disease, mostly older adults and those with underlying conditions, including with additional boosters,” said SAGE Chairperson Dr. Hanna Nohynek.

The roadmap now outlines three priority groups for COVID-19; high, medium, and low.

Those belonging to the high priority group include both older and young adults with significant comorbidities such as diabetes and heart disease; those with immunocompromising conditions like HIV and organ transplant patients.

Children aged 6 months and older, pregnant women and frontline health workers with the same conditions are also part of the high priority group.

Medium priority groups are “healthy adults — usually under the age of 50 to 60 — without comorbidities and children and adolescents with comorbidities. SAGE recommends primary series and first booster doses for the medium priority group.”

While boosters are safe for the medium priority group, SAGE “does not routinely recommend them, given the comparatively low public health returns.”

Healthy children and adolescents aged 6 months to 17 years, belong to the low priority group. It is still worth noting that primary COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters are safe for this age group.

But because of the low burden of disease, the SAGE is urging countries to base their vaccination to this group on contextual factors like disease burden, cost effectiveness and other costs.

“The public health impact of vaccinating healthy children and adolescents is comparatively much lower than the established benefits of traditional essential vaccines for children — such as the rotavirus, measles, and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines — and of COVID-19 vaccines for high and medium priority groups. Children with immunocompromising conditions and comorbidities do face a higher risk of severe COVID-19, so are included in the high and medium priority groups respectively,” the WHO explained.

At the sidelines of the launching of the Philippine Multisectoral Nutrition Program, DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the country’s vaccination program remains aligned with the WHO, which puts greater focus on the most vulnerable sector.

“We are focusing still on the vulnerable based on the classification that SAGE has just issued, 'yung mga highly vulnerable should have this regular vaccination. 'Yung mga non-included as part of the vulnerable at hindi na nire-recommend at hindi na sinasabing cost efficient ito for government,” she said.

The health official added that while the SAGE has already updated its vaccine recommendations, to which they are expected to adhere to, it will still be studied by the country’s pool of experts.

"Sa ngayon wala pa tayong final-final. Kasi paguusapan pa rin po itong SAGE study na ito with our experts and they will be joining us so that they can give recommendations ano 'yung talaga ang final decision ng ating gobyerno," Vergeire said.

Vergeire added that the anticipated donations, even procurement, of bivalent vaccines is also aligned with the updates made by SAGE emphasizing that the quantity of the new jabs would still be based on the number of individuals in the priority group.

Latest data from the DOH show that over 78.4 million Filipinos are now fully-vaccinated against COVID-19 while almost 24 million have already received the first booster jab.

The DOH says it will continue efforts to increase vaccination rates until at least the 3rd quarter of 2023.


Watch more News on iWantTFC