MANILA (UPDATE) — The Philippines will soon administer a second COVID-19 vaccine booster for the elderly and health-care workers in an effort to extend protection to other high-risk groups, a health official said Wednesday.
The Health Technology Assessment Council, an independent advisory body under the Department of Health, is set to release its recommendation on the use of second booster dose for the 2 remaining vulnerable groups.
"Actually, ie-expand na natin soon. 'Yung in terms of safety, wala naman tayong magiging problema," said Dr. Nina Gloriani, chairperson of the government's Vaccine Expert Panel.
"Ang sabi ni [Health] Secretary [Francisco] Duque nung nag-townhall meeting kami nung Monday, baka daw within the week ay mai-release na ng HTAC. So, either today, tomorrow or latest na next week 'yung kanilang recommendation."
Gloriani made the remark after some medical frontliners and senior citizens received second booster shots at a hospital in Metro Manila when the initial rollout was supposed to be limited to immunocompromised individuals.
One area gave additional boosters to members of other vulnerable sectors so as not to waste the remaining doses in one vial, according to Dr. Ted Herbosa, special adviser to the National Task Force Against COVID-19.
"Ito ay violation ng ating policy. Pero titingnan natin, valid naman kesa masayang yun. Itatapon yung 2 doses...We don't have to be very strict with the policy yun lang wag magkagulo sa pagbabakuna," he told a televised public briefing.
(It's a violation of our policy. But we'll look into it, it's valid because the vaccine will be wasted otherwise. We don't have to be very strict with the policy as long as it doesn't lead to disorder.)
The country began providing the additional jab to immunocompromised people on Monday.
So far, only 5 vaccine brands have been approved for use as additional jab, she said. These are Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sinovac and Sinopharm.
Gloriani explained that people with weakened immune systems were first given second booster shots due to waning immunity.
"Pinaka-vulnerable itong grupo ng immunocompromised kasi nga 'yung kanilang immunity ay hindi masyadong maganda," she said.
Citing data, Gloriani said the effectiveness of the first booster dose fell after a few months, hence the need for another jab.
Those eligible for the second booster shots include the following who have received their first booster at least 3 months prior:
• Those who have immunodeficiency
• Those living with HIV
• Cancer patients (active)
• Transplant recipients
• Patients who take immunosuppressive drugs
• Bedridden patients or those with terminal illness
To date, some 67 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This represents 74.55 percent of the government's target of vaccinating over 90 million people.
Meanwhile, only 12.7 million have received their first booster dose.
Gloriani urged the public to complete their vaccination amid the threat of other coronavirus variants.
"Akala nila tapos na. Bumaba ang kaso pero huwag tayong magpakampante," she said.
"'Yung sa ibang countries tumataas ang kaso tapos meron tayong mga variants pa. 'Yung mga anak ni omicron, kapatid ni omicron ay baka dumating sa atin. So mag-ingat tayo."