PH gov’t studying to shorten gap for COVID booster shot

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 13 2021 06:42 PM

Senior citizens receive their COVID-19 vaccine booster shots at the Filoil San Juan Arena in San Juan City on December 03, 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File
Senior citizens receive their COVID-19 vaccine booster shots at the Filoil San Juan Arena in San Juan City on December 03, 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — The national government is mulling to shorten the gap between the initial COVID-19 shots and the booster jab amid the threat of the Omicron variant, vaccine czar Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr. said on Monday.

This, after the World Health Organization (WHO) said Omicron spreads faster than the Delta variant, while early evidence has suggested the new strain causes “a reduction in vaccine efficacy against infection and transmission”. 

Citing a laboratory study that showed a third dose is promising against Omicron, Galvez said he is optimistic COVID vaccine supply in the country will not be a problem should the government allow a shorter gap for a booster shot.

“Some brands prefer na 3 months, but other brands prefer na 4 months. ‘Yun ang tinitingnan natin (That's what we're looking at),” he said.

“We have 62 million doses right now in our stockpile, there are more coming. 50 million. Omicron is also coming. Ang recommendation ng foreign experts is for us to really prepare for Omicron. If we want to be fully prepared against Omicron, we have to expand the boostering, para wala tayong tinatawag na gap (so we won't have any gap),” he said.

He said a vaccine expert panel recommended that from an initial dose of two COVID-19 shots, government should administer three primary jabs, besides the booster shot.

“Parang nakikita nila na mas malakas ang ating protection if we have 3 doses na primaries, particularly ‘yung Sinovac,” Galvez said, referring to the Chinese-made vaccine.

Latest government data show only 774,321 individuals have so far received a booster or additional dose in the country. Over 41 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated, while 54.7 million received their first dose.

The Philippines is eyeing to begin administering COVID-19 jabs to kids ages 5 to 11 in early January, according to Galvez.

The country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received Pfizer’s application to expand its coronavirus vaccine's emergency use authorization to the this age group, according to its director general Eric Domingo.

The American vaccine manufacturer submitted its application to the Philippine FDA last week.

“It is now under evaluation by our experts,” Domingo said. “We hope to make a decision before the end of the month."

'BALL DROPPED AGAIN'

Galvez, meanwhile, denied Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.’s claim that the Philippines again “dropped the ball”, this time on the procurement of 50 million syringes for the country’s inoculation program.

Locsin last Saturday said in a tweet that the need for the syringes was discussed in Washington DC but that Philippine agencies “refused to discuss” the details.

Galves disputed this, saying the country is procuring 44 million syringes from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). He said that the delivery of these syringes will be difficult to handle on the agency's part.

“Considering na sinabi ng WHO na ‘yung syringes natin talaga ay, globally, may acute shortage tayo, pero yung proseso ng procurement, I believe nasa UNICEF na yung bola. Mayroon naman tayong alternative syringes,” he said.

(Considering that the WHO said there is a syringe shortage globally, I believe the ball's in UNICEF's hands. We have alternative syringes.)

Presidential Adviser for COVID-19 Response Secretary Vince Dizon also noted it is important to follow the procurement process when the government makes purchases.

Dizon assured that despite the global shortage of syringes for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, the country has a supply of alternative syringes and that it won’t be a problem during the second phase of the "National COVID Vaccination Drive" on Dec. 15-17.

The Department of Health targets to inoculate 7 million individuals during the three-day massive vaccination, and the National Task Force against COVID-19 is optimistic it can go as high as up to 9 million.

“We are recommending na talagang i-maximize na natin ang vaccination as we anticipate the coming ng Omicron,” Galvez said.

(We are recommending to maximize the vaccination since we are anticipating the coming of Omicron.)

Galvez, meanwhile, allayed concerns on the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines with extended shelf life.

“As long as the expert says that there is no diminishing efficacy and the safety is not compromised, we still have to use ‘yung vaccine, considering that ‘yung explanation ng manufacturer, the shelf life of a certain vaccine can be extended if we are able to preserve it in the required storage,” he said.

The Philippines is scheduled to receive on Monday night over 1.5 million doses of the single-shot Janssen COVID vaccine, which Galvez said will be distributed to areas with low coverage of fully vaccinated senior citizens.

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