MANILA - Vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. on Thursday said he is open to the idea of giving booster shots to health workers already fully vaccinated with Sinovac’s COVID-19 jab.
“Wala naman pong problema. If I am the one who will be asked, kailangan bigyan natin talaga ng full protection ang ating healthcare workers. Kung when, we are asking the WHO and NITAG (National Immunization Technical Advisory Group) for approval,” he said.
(There's no problem actually. If I am the one who will be asked, we really need to provide our health workers with full protection. As for when it will be given, we are asking the WHO and NITAG for approval.)
“We would like to also request ‘yung WHO na iba ang consideration natin sa healthcare workers, kasi sila ang most vulnerable at sila ang tatamaan eh."
(We would like to also request the WHO to give other consideration to healthcare workers since they are the most vulnerable and they're the ones who will be hit.)
Galvez said the policy on administering booster doses in the country will be based on the recommendations of local vaccine experts and the World Health Organization.
He expects the decision on it to be out in October or November.
His statement came more than a month after a study showed that antibodies triggered by Sinovac's vaccine declined around 6 months after a second dose for most recipients, although a third shot had a strong booster effect.
Some studies also showed that some vaccines have lower efficacy against newer COVID variants.
Sinovac plans to donate 500,000 COVID booster shots for health workers in the Philippines, according to Galvez.
He stressed that according to local health experts, existing COVID-19 jabs in the country remain effective against severe symptoms and that government needs to inoculate those who have not received their first dose yet.
The vaccine czar defended the government’s decision to procure more Sinovac COVID-19 jabs despite perceptions that they are less effective compared to other vaccine brands against newer variants.
The government initially procured around 26 million COVID vaccine doses from the Chinese drugmaker and is eyeing to procure 20 million more.
Galvez asserted all vaccines with emergency use approval from the WHO can prevent severe COVID. He added Sinovac has been prompt with its deliveries.
“I believe the reason why we have this WHO (EUL/emergency use listing), is that all vaccines (in the list), including Sinovac and Sinopharm, they can prevent 100% against severity and hospitalization,” he said.
“Kung wala po ang Sinovac na binili natin … ang nabakunahan lang po natin siguro wala pang 5 million or 10 million. With the rise of cases, siguro ang Metro Manila, punong-puno na ang ating ospital,” he added.
(If we didn't have Sinova ... we would have vaccinated around 5 to 10 million only now. With the rise in cases, all hospitals in Metro Manila now would be full.)
The government is recalibrating its future COVID vaccine procurements to focus on manufacturers that “tweaked” their doses to improve protection against variants.
Besides Sinovac, Galvez said they are now focused on procuring the vaccine candidates of Moderna, Pfizer, Novovax, and AstraZeneca.
“Novavax is a second-generation vaccine. Tinest po ito sa mga variant (This was tested against variants),” he said.
The government’s total expenditure for the COVID vaccination program is at $1.3 billion or P64 billion, Galvez said.
The Philippines on Thursday reported 16,621 more COVID-19 infections, bringing its total confirmed coronavirus cases to 2,020,484, of which 146,510 are active.
The country has been battling a new surge in virus infections since late July, which experts believe was caused by the more virulent Delta variant that first emerged in India.
The nation's coronavirus death toll has reached 33,680.
More than 14.1 million people in the country have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 after the administration of some 34.1 million doses since the start of the rollout last March 1.
Over 20 million have been given as first doses, latest government data showed.
The government targets to inoculate some 70 million people this year for the country to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus and safely reopen the economy.