DOH eyes 23M people with COVID-19 booster in Marcos' first 100 days

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 18 2022 11:14 PM

MANILA - The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday said it is planning to administer at least 23 million booster shots within President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s first 100 days in office.

Marcos has instructed the agency to make COVID-19 boosters more accessible to the public, DOH officer-in-charge and Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told TeleRadyo.

"We need to ramp up our vaccinations. We have a target for the first 100 days of this current administration.

"If we are able to achieve that in these 100 days, then diyan po tayo mag-uusap kung mayroon tayong panibago o further easing of restrictions," she said.

"He (Marcos) was very keen dito sa booster doses. Talagang he values yung sinasabi ng ebidensya na itong booster talagang would really up the immunity of the population," she said.

Of the 55 million fully vaccinated Filipinos against COVID-19, only 15 million individuals have availed of booster doses, data from the DOH showed.

The DOH is not seeking to administer booster jabs to some 40 million fully-vaccinated individuals who are eligible to receive the third dose of COVID-19 vaccines, Vergeire said.

"Hindi talaga kaya, not really realistic for this first 100 days but at least we are targeting 50 percent," she said.

Marcos has already been in office for nearly 20 days.

To reach the target, the DOH and other implementing units will have to vaccinate around 397,000 people a day in the next 80 days, Vergeire said.

"When we tried to look at the capacity of each of the sites that we have, yun pong capacity natin per day… kaya po natin," she said.

"If and when we can improve on our booster coverage, we can be able to confidently say na ito puwede na nating luwagan, ayan puwede na nating tanggalin," she said.

The DOH is planning to give incentives to individuals,as well as and local government units that would successfully reach the booster dose targets, the Undersecretary said.

"Mayroon din tayong incentive na bibigyan 'yan ng recognition ng Office of the President… and that recognition will be big or huge for them," she said.

It will be possible that these incentives would include "loosening some restrictions in areas if and when we reach a certain coverage," she said.

"Nothing is final yet about these incentives. It’s being planned."

Over the weekend, Marcos said he wants to ramp up the Philippines' booster coverage, noting that the additional dose helped him recuperate quickly from his second bout against COVID-19 last week.

But the President underscored that there is no need to make booster shots mandatory, saying that Filipinos should still be entitled to decide on how they want to manage their health.

TRADE OR DONATE NEARLY EXPIRED VACCINES

Marcos had also ordered the DOH to either donate to other countries or return to manufacturers COVID-19 vaccines that are about to expire, Vergeire said.

"He wanted us to further negotiate with COVAX facilities so we can negotiate to replace some of the vaccines that are near to expire," she said.

"He also wanted to explore the possibility that the Department of Foreign Affairs will help us in finding interested countries where we can donate some of the vaccines," she said.

The Food and Drug Administration has also been talking to manufacturers if they "could extend the shelf life of these vaccines," she said.

While the government does not want to waste vaccines, the DOH cannot just administer the nearly-expired doses to any individual who wants additional protection against COVID-19, the DOH official said.

"We have always based our decisions on science and evidence," she said.

"Kung kami lang sa gobyerno bakit ba hindi, ipapamigay namin because it is going to be wasted pero hindi po ganoon ang pagdedesisyon," she said.

HEALTH ALERT LEVELS

Vergeire said COVID-19 alert levels were also discussed with the President, but she declined to say if the government would soon adjust the current health restrictions in Metro Manila and other parts of the country.

"I will defer to the Office of the President to announce by tomorrow," she said.

"What I can tell you is the DOH gave recommendations and also explained to the President yung ating current alert level system, what has to be improved, what are the implications," she said.

Proposals to change the current number-based alert levels to a color-coded counterpart were not part of the earlier meeting with the President, she said.

"What we talked about really is what are the metrics of the alert level, what would be its implications, how does it really completely give the picture of our current situation and how does it relate to the restrictions we have right now," she said.

When asked about Marcos' take on the current alert levels, Vergeire said: "His points were very rational."

"Talagang sinasabi niya na mayroon na tayong sitwasyon dati na nag-apply talaga yang alert level, at may mga sitwasyon tayo ngayon na mayroon na tayo dapat na kinokonsidera," she said.

"We have directives that we should continue on what we are doing for this response."