MANILA (UPDATE) - Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Monday said experts from his department and various medical groups have recommended delaying the proposed vaccination of minors against COVID-19 in the Philippines.
In a taped public briefing, Duque said that specialists from the Philippine Pediatric Society, Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines, and the Department of Health-All Experts Group noted that government should take into consideration the country's supply of COVID-19 jabs before going through with the inoculation of children aged 17 and below.
"Nanatili ang recommendation ng DOH na bigyan prayoridad pa rin ang pagbabakuna ng mga adults base sa atin pong prioritization framework," he said.
(The DOH maintains its recommendation to still prioritize the vaccination of adults based on our prioritization framework.)
Duque said health experts and officials still need more time to study the effects of COVID-19 vaccines on children.
However, he added that minors with co-morbidities could be vaccinated once the Philippines' COVID-19 vaccine supply improves. But until then, the proposal is shelved.
"Kahit pa simulan natin ang pagbabakuna sa mga bata, ay hindi rin sasapat para sa kanila ang supply na meron ang bansa sa kasalakuyan," Duque said.
(Even if we start vaccinating the children, our supplies won't last for them.)
He added that the Philippines' Pfizer jab supplies, the country's only COVID-19 vaccine which has emergency use authority for children, are not enough to start the inoculation of minors.
Duque, who sits as chairman of the government's inter-agency task force against COVID-19, earlier said that "supply permitting", he would support proposals to vaccinate minors against COVID-19.
President Rodrigo Duterte later clarified why there were calls to vaccinate children, asking Food and Drug Administration Director-General Eric Domingo if children are as vulnerable as the elderly in terms of getting infected with COVID-19.
"Why is it that it came late to us to realize that the vaccines are also needed by the children?" he asked Domingo, who explained that the Delta variant seemed to be more dangerous to children compared to other variants.
Domingo added that although children are getting sick with COVID-19, the elderly and those with comorbities are still at higher risk of dying from it compared to children, adding that vaccination of children should be considered once all of the vulnerable population have already been inoculated.
"'Pag nabakunahan na po talaga 'yung vulnerable population, then it would be time to consider vaccinating the children because they are now becoming more vulnerable also," he explained.
(Once everyone in the vulnerable population are vaccinated, then it would be time to consider vaccinating the children because they are now becoming more vulnerable also.)
Proposals to vaccinate minors against COVID-19 have been called for by government officials and the public amid reports of children being severely struck by the respiratory disease in the country.
A report by the University of the Philippines earlier bared that it has 6 pediatric patients seen to have "very serious" infection, and 2 of these patients have comorbidities.
PGH spokesperson Dr. Jonas del Rosario also told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo last week that a newborn and 7 other children up to 15 years old have been admitted at the hospital for COVID-19.
The Philippines has administered at least 24.4 million COVID-19 shots, including 13,087,781 first jabs. Around 11.3 million are now fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, Malacañang said.
The country aims to vaccinate up to 70 million of its population this year to achieve herd immunity and safely reopen the economy.
The Philippines has the second-worst coronavirus outbreak in Southeast Asia after Indonesia, with around 1.6 million COVID-19 cases and more than 29,000 deaths.