DOH says to procure vaccines targeting omicron variant


Posted at Aug 16 2022 06:42 PM

A health worker prepares a Pfizer  ABS-CBN News/File
A health worker prepares a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine inside a vaccination site at a shopping mall in Makati City on July 28, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — The Department of Health has allotted budget for the procurement of modified COVID-19 vaccines that target the omicron variant and the original form of the virus.

Health officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said Tuesday these tweaked jabs were believed to be more potent compared to the current COVID-19 vaccines.

The 2 omicron-adapted vaccines come in 2 forms — monovalent and bivalent. Monovalent vaccines are developed to target the omicron while bivalent vaccines are adapted for omicron and the original virus.

"We have reserved some budget for us to procure this kind of vaccines if and when lumabas na siya para sa entire population," Vergeire said in a press briefing. 

Deliveries of the new generation vaccines in the US are expected to begin in October. It may take time before the Philippines gets access to the vaccines, which will undergo regulatory review, Vergeire said.

On Tuesday, the DOH reported over 1,000 additional cases of omicron offshoots BA.5 and BA.4.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have developed jabs targeting the fast-spreading subvariants.

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While vaccines have helped lower hospitalizations and deaths from COVID, which first emerged in China in late 2019, the current jabs are mainly aimed at the earlier strains of the disease. 

The World Health Organization warned in July that the pandemic was "nowhere near over" due to the spread of omicron subvariants and the lifting of control measures.

COVID-19 cases rose around the world earlier this year, driven by the new variants. 

The BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants were first discovered in South Africa and spread rapidly despite high population immunity conferred by prior waves and vaccinations.

Like other omicron variants, they tend to have a milder disease course as they settle less in the lungs and more in the upper nasal passages, causing symptoms like fever, tiredness and loss of smell.

At a Senate hearing Monday, Vergeire said over 20.6 million COVID-19 vaccines have either expired or remain unused. 

The figure represents 8.42 percent of the country’s total procured vaccine as of Aug. 12 this year, or within the “10 percent” allowed number of wastage by the World Health Organization, she said.

Reasons for wastage include date of expiration; the vaccine’s container was opened but was not used; spillage; broken vials; back flow; left over and under doses.

— With a report from Agence France-Presse