MANILA - Health Secretary Francisco Duque III is backing a proposal to give booster shots to healthcare workers, but emphasized that there must first be wider coverage of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
"I’m pushing for it. It’s just that the all-experts group—mga doktor din ito, mga scientist (these are doctors, scientists), epidemiologists, infectious disease experts—they are all saying that we have to ensure that a bigger percentage of the population must receive the primary series of vaccines," he told ANC's Headstart.
Duque said only 30 percent of the population have complete immunization against COVID-19 and about 34 percent have received their first dose of the vaccine.
"Marami pa tayong hindi pa nakakatanggap ni isa. So kung magbibigay ka hanggang booster dose sa healthcare workers—which I support—this will re-channel, parang ma-disenfranchise, mawala yung equity dun sa mga tao din na dapat mabigyan din," he said.
(Many have not even received one. So if you will give booster doses to healthcare workers—which I support—this will re-channel, may disenfranchise, lose equity on other people who should also get.)
He also noted that coverage of the vaccine rollout outside Metro Manila is still low.
"Importanteng mabigyan natin ng proteksyon itong mga ito kasi diyan nanggagaling yung mga severe, critical, saka yung mga naa-ICU, saka mga namamatay," he said.
(It's important to protect them because there may be severe, critical cases, and those who need to be placed in ICUs or even die.)
A study by Chinese researchers published in July 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.
However, the Food and Drug Administration this month said it does not see yet waning effects of COVID-19 vaccines administered in the country even after almost 6 months. Director-General Eric Domingo said there is no need for booster shots "at this time."
The regulator is yet to amend emergency use authorization on any brand of vaccine to allow a third dose.
A survey conducted by the Department of Health last month showed that over 90 percent of healthcare workers are willing to get booster shot if proven effective and recommended by experts.
The Philippines may consider giving the supplementary shot in November or December as more doses arrive in the country, said vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr.
A tracking by the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group pegs the total number of COVID-19 vaccine doses that have arrived in the country at 87.69 million, with 60.4 million distributed as of October 6.
There have so far been 23.5 million indivisuals fully vaccinated, representing 30.51 percent of the government's target of 77.1 million, according to the same monitor.