MANILA - The Philippines may not be able to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus by the latter part of the year, an independent health advocate said Tuesday, citing the current pace in the rollout of the vaccine in the country.
"I'm not optimistic that we'll be finished in 6 months, given na 1.7 million pa lang ang nababakunahan natin," Dr. Tony Leachon, a former adviser of the government's coronavirus panel, said in an online forum.
(I'm not optimistic that we'll be finished in 6 months given that we have only vaccinated some 1.7 million people.)
The Philippines needs to inoculate some 70 million citizens for the country to achieve herd immunity against the virus that has infected at least 1 million people in the country.
The national government should seek the help of the private sector and cut red tape in the procurement of vaccines by private firms to speed up the country's vaccination program, Leachon said.
"Late na in the ball game. Medyo tight ang global supply right now," he said.
(We're late in the ball game. Global supply right now is tight.)
"They should have been given the latitude and flexibility to order right away," Leachon said, referring to private companies.
On Monday, Sec. Carlito Galvez, Jr., the country's vaccine czar, said the country may achieve herd immunity by November as the delivery of the bulk of vaccine supplies in June will accelerate the inoculation drive.
"We have a lot of supply chain expert who made the simulation. And we have already prepared for that," he said.
Leachon said Galvez should not be blamed for the possible failure to attain herd immunity this year.
"He is a man of integrity. He is very honest. Ang problema, wala siyang suporta," Leachon said.
(The problem is he lacks support.)
"A composite team of experts in pharmaceutical medicine should be tapped. Mahihirapan sila kasi (The National Task Force Against COVID-19 will have difficulty because) they have not worked on it," he said.
"They might be good in military strategy, but this is a different world."
The Philippines may also have a harder time addressing the COVID-19 crisis due to the "premature opening of the economy" earlier this year, as well as the failure to "anticipate the arrival of the variants" from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil that led to a spike in new cases, Leachon said.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque earlier said the government's management of the COVID-19 crisis is excellent as it blamed the mutation of the coronavirus for the spike in new infections in the country beginning March this year.
The country has so far received over 3.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from European pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and China's Sinovac. More than 1.7 million of those have been administered, as of April 25.
The vaccine rollout began March 1.
The Philippines might get its first COVID-19 shots from Pfizer/BioNTech in May and Moderna in June, according to Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez.