DOH nixes calls to exempt COVID-19 vaccinated people from face mask rule

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 03 2021 04:26 PM

DOH nixes calls to exempt COVID-19 vaccinated people from face mask rule 1
Quezon City’s Task Force Disiplina and members of the Quezon City Police round up 31 individuals, including minors, from Sitio Militar in Brgy. Bago Bantay for violating quarantine protocols on July 21, 2020. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - Those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 must continue to wear face masks in public places, the Department of Health (DOH) said Thursday, amid proposals they be exempted from the rule.

The Philippines' vaccination landscape is different from the United States, where vaccinated people are allowed to stop wearing face masks, DOH Epidemiology Bureau Director Alethea De Guzman said in an online press conference.

"While our vaccination [program] is on its way... in the US, it's at 50 percent," she said.

"Tayo, kailangan mapababa natin pa 'yung mga kaso, 'yung mga transmission rate," she added.

(We still need to reduce our cases here, our transmission rate.)

As of June 2, the United states has administered more than 296.91 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The US, which has a population of over 328 million, has recorded more than 33 million confirmed COVID-19 cases. 

On the other hand, the Philippines has so far administered 5.38 million doses, according to data from the DOH. The country's population is over 108 million and its confirmed coronavirus infections stood at over 1.24 million.

The Philippines needs to increase the coverage of its vaccination program first before it could consider implementing a mask-free policy for those who were already inoculated against COVID-19, De Guzman said.

The government aims to vaccinate at least 58 million to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19, officials have said.

The DOH also has to review studies on the level of protection COVID-19 vaccines could offer, especially against the virus' more contagious variants, before allowing vaccinated individuals to stop wearing masks, she said.

"After we've achieved certain milestones, we can review kung mayroon na tayong kailangan i-revise [sa policy on face masks]," she said.

(After we've achieved certain milestones, we can review if there are policies that need to be revised.)

"When people become vaccinated, there is a perception na, 'Hindi ko na kailangan sundin ang minimum public health standards'," she said.

(When people become vaccinated, there is a perception that, 'I don't need to follow the minimum public health standards'.')

"We want the masking compliance to be higher even now, even among the vaccinated individuals," she added.

The DOH had said that vaccination is an important way to protect a person from getting severe COVID-19.

In March, President Rodrigo Duterte said free face masks should be given to the public following a spike in new COVID-19 cases a year since the virus was first detected in the country. The policy has yet to be widely enforced.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government had also urged the public to wear face masks at home to avoid spreading the disease among family members.

Wearing masks lowers the chance of transmission of the virus by up to 85%, while maintaining a physical distance of one meter reduces the risk of transmission by 80%, according to studies, the DOH had said.

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