MANILA -- Two lawmakers are urging the Philippine government to provide booster shots to protect health workers from the more transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant.
Senator Nancy Binay said the government must provide the shots to frontline health workers and patients whose immune systems have been compromised.
Booster shots, she added, are needed to prevent the collapse of the country's healthcare system.
"Andami nating naririnig na balita na ang health workers natin ay nagkakasakit. I guess it is safe to assume most of them Sinovac ang naging bakuna. So, ito na ang breakthrough cases," she said.
"Tignan din natin ang naging experience ng Indonesia [kung] saan maraming (health care workers) nila ang nagkasakit and the vaccine they used was also Sinovac. I’m not promoting brand preference; I’m just looking at the facts. Mukhang kailangan talaga natin paghandaan ang booster shots for HCWs,” Binay said during the Kapihan sa Manila Bay virtual media forum on Wednesday.
"Every time may magkasakit na HCW, hindi lang isa ang mawawala sa healthcare system, kundi lahat ng exposed sa nagpositive. Lalong makakadagdag ito sa kakulangan natin ng HCWs," she added.
For now, the World Health Organization does not see a need for "population-level booster dosing" against COVID-19 except for immunocompromised individuals, World Health Organization (WHO) country representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said on Tuesday.
Abeyasinghe said all COVID-19 vaccines in the WHO’s emergency use listing are effective in preventing severe disease and death.
Malacanang also said on Tuesday that health workers may not yet get their booster shots despite the continuously rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said there is only a recommendation from the country’s vaccine expert panel to give booster shots to health workers for their additional protection.
But for former health secretary and Iloilo 1st District Representative Janette Garin, the national government must act fast on the matter.
"Bawat tagal ng ating desisyon, nagiging lamat 'yan sa ating bayan. Is it a need or just a want? I’m seeing a lot of breakthrough infections on the ground—ibig sabihin, bakunado pero nahawaan at pwedeng nakakahawa," Garin said in the same media forum.
She went on, "I do respect the WHO, but then, kung babalik tayo, the reason is because they want equitable distribution. The Philippines is just a very small country, we do not have very technically equipped hospitals at hirap tayo sa isolation centers. We do not even have a good contact tracing app, so if we do not do booster shots for health workers and people with comorbidities, magco-collapse ang ating healthcare system."
Garin had earlier admitted testing positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated.
She emphasized that the government has a responsibility to the people and their survival, not to the WHO.
"Everything is new. We cannot just make decisions based on WHO recommendations. We should make decisions because that is what our country and our people need," Garin said.
"The problem of WHO is they have the global world to cater to when it comes to vaccine supply. Now, in the case of the PH, pwede naman kasi na ang donation nila, gamitin natin sa first two doses. But then the vaccines we are buying should be used for third doses."
"It doesn’t mean we need to give to everybody, ang nangangailangan ng booster shots basically are HCWs and those with comorbidities because we are seeing moderate and severe breakthrough infections."
Garin noted that Pfizer and Sinovac already have trials on three doses, with the third dose given six to eight months after the second dose.
"Pfizer admitted they already have recommended a third dose 8 months from the second dose. Mas maganda ang pagmultiply ng mga sundalong antibodies if given 8 months after.
"WHO is there as an advisory body, but the problem is, look at Remdesivir, sabi ng WHO huwag gamitin yan. Did we follow? No. WHO even allowed hospitals to buy," the congresswoman said.
“Ang sagot ng DOH on the issue of booster shots nang sinabing other countries are doing this, was we are waiting for the DOST clinical trials. Ang DOST clinical trials refer to the mixing of vaccines. They are correct, worldwide, wala pa talagang tapos na clinical trials on the mixing of vaccines. However, Sinovac has already agreed that there is waning immunity and a need for a third dose."
"The best time to give the third shot is 6 months after second dose,” she added.
NOT READY FOR WAR VS COVID-19
Given the limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines in the country, Binay said she acknowledges that administering booster shots could be difficult to implement at this point in time.
“Naiintindihan ko ang posisyon ng DOH because at the moment, kulang talaga ngayon ang vaccines. Tama rin naman na dapat unahin muna natin bakunahan ang senior citizens natin. Marami pa sa kanila ang di nagpapabakuna,” she said.
But the senator hopes the government would focus on the war against COVID-19, explaining that during the hearing with the Development Budget Coordination Committee on the proposed 2022 national budget, the P45 billion allocated under the Department of Health for the procurement of booster shots is lodged under the unprogrammed appropriations, which is dependent on the availability of excess revenue or funding.
“We are in the middle of a budget deliberation. I raised yung point na bakit ang P45 billion ay nasa unprogrammed funds. Pag nakalagay doon, ibig sabihin hindi pa sigurado ang funding niyan. Hahanapan pa ng pondo ng national. Ang suggestion natin, lagyan na natin ng funding para by next year, handa na tayo,” Binay said.
She continued, “We are always one step behind. Hindi natin nauunahan ang virus, lagi tayong nasa catch up. So, sa akin, for next year, unahan na natin, pondohan at siguraduhin na natin.”
Binay and Garin both agree that the proposed 2022 national budget is “not ready for a war against COVID-19.”
Aside from the booster shots, they said the budget lacked allocation on key actions against the disease, such as testing and contact tracing.
“It’s not just the booster shots. Ang sabi ko nga, ang 2022 budget is not ready for a war with COVID. Andaming kulang! Walang budget for contact tracing. Nang tinanong ko, sabi ng DBM kasi hindi raw hiningi ng DILG. Kulang na kulang talaga ang COVID response natin,” Binay said.
Garin also said, “Hindi lang contact tracers ang walang budget. There was also no budget for testing. You keep advocating immediate isolation and contact tracing. In many countries, testing is free."
"Ang problema sa atin, yan na lang ang dapat gawin ng gobyerno para naman meron kang ibibigay sa tao na weapon. Karamihan ng nandun ay not responsive to what we need in 2022."
“When we talk about the pandemic, we should consider the whole of public health. Ngayon, mababa na ang death rate pero ang taas ng positivity rate, andaming nagpopositive at nakakahawa. Kaliwa’t kanang lockdowns, nagugutom ang tao, papasok ang ibang sakit kasi yung tao di nakakabili ng medication."
"It’s a bigger intertwined public health problem. So if you are not going to give booster shots especially to those HCWs and with comorbidities… kailangan kasi nating pababain, if not eradicate, infection among HCWs para di bumagsak ang healthcare system. We need to balance it,” she added.