MANILA - Taking booster shots for COVID-19 vaccines would be against government policy, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Monday as he urged individuals with knowledge on this to come forward.
Duque, chairman of the inter-agency task force against COVID-19, said there is currently no recommendation from the country's vaccine expert panel or the all-experts group to have a supplementary inoculation.
He said these recommending bodies instead constantly advocate for ramping up vaccination among health workers (A1), senior citizens (A2), and individuals with comorbidities (A3).
"I hope that they can give me the report on this. You call us up…It’s against policy, it’s against IATF resolution because we have to have a 2-dose vaccination, we have to raise the coverage of our A1, A2, A3 and the rest of the groups," he told ANC's Headstart.
"Let’s get them to the highest possible coverage, at least 90 to 95 percent for A2. While we haven’t reached those figures yet, the talk about booster doses has no place at this point. So let’s prioritize," he said.
He explained that although the private sector and local government units bought their own vaccines, these are subject to policies created by the national government because these were purchased through a tripartite agreement.
"Walang nakalagay na magbu-booster shot ka (There is nothing indicated there that you will use it as booster shot.). This is really for a 2-dose vaccination program except for Janssen. Janssen kasi is a 1-dose vaccine," he said.
Duque said the IATF en banc can discuss imposing penalties on people found out to have gotten booster shots. He also emphasized that "all of these so far are talks, no document to support these allegations."
In the case of San Juan City Rep. Ronaldo Zamora who has admitted to receiving 4 shots of COVID-19 vaccines, the Health chief said from his understanding, the lawmaker was advised to take a booster shot because of "serious comorbidities."
"We respect the decision of his physician," said Duque.
Zamora received 2 doses of the vaccine developed by Chinese state firm Sinopharm in December last year, months before the Philippines started its vaccination program in March. Because he was "immunodeficient," the doctors told him he should get 2 booster shots from Pfizer-BioNTech, he said.
Duque maintained that all COVID-19 vaccines used in the Philippines are effective, no matter the brand.
"Our vaccines are all effective, whether they’re Sinovac, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Janssen. They are all effective in preventing severe and critical COVID infections, prevent hospitalization and death," he said.
A study by Chinese researchers found out that antibodies triggered by Sinovac Biotech's COVID-19 vaccine declined below a key threshold from around 6 months after a second dose for most recipients, although a third shot had a strong booster effect.
According to monitoring by the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group, some 20.5 million doses of the China-made vaccines have arrived in the Philippines.
The same tracking also pegs the total number of doses administered across the whole country at 23.19 million. There are also 10.7 million individuals who are fully vaccinated, representing 15.11% of the government's target.