MANILA (UPDATED)— Active COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila jumped five-fold from mid-July to Monday, Aug. 23, even as nearly half of its residents eligible for vaccination were already fully immunized and nearly 80 percent have received a partial dose, analysis by the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group (IRG) showed.
According to the research unit, active infections in the region went down by 37 percent from 11,001 on March 1, the start of the government's vaccination program, to 6,992 on July 14, a day before the OCTA Research Group observed an uptick in new cases most likely driven by the COVID-19 Delta variant.
At around that time in July, 1.21 million residents or 12.6 percent of Metro Manila's 9.6 million adult population were already fully inoculated against COVID-19.
A total of 3.68 million people or 38 percent meanwhile, were partially vaccinated, according to the health department's data as of July 4.
But in the next 6 weeks, from July 15 until Aug. 23, active infections soared by 436 percent, or from 6,922 to 37,072 cases, even as 4.3 million or 44.6 percent of adults in Metro Manila have already been fully vaccinated, the ABS-CBN IRG noted.
Some 7.4 million others (77.5 percent of residents eligible for vaccination), meanwhile, have been partially vaccinated, based on the Department of Health's (DOH) Aug. 21 report.
Sought for comment on the ABS-CBN IRG's analysis, Health Undersecretary and treatment czar Leopoldo Vega said COVID-19 vaccines do not stop virus transmission, and would only prevent hospitalization and severe COVID-19 cases.
He also lamented that many residents in the capital region remained unvaccinated from the disease.
"As of now, talagang mayroon pa ring unvaccinated, mataas pa rin yon, at saka yung mga unvaccinated pwede pa ring mag-transmit at magkaroon ng infection," Vega said in an interview on ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo on Tuesday.
(There are some people who are still unvaccinated, and there are many of them. And the unvaccinated people could still transmit the virus and cause infection.)
As of Aug. 21, Metro Manila had 21,877 active COVID-19 cases, data collated by the MMDA stated.
Of this figure, majority or 14,027 individuals have yet to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, while 3,090 were already partially vaccinated. The remaining 4,760 are fully immunized.
Among those fully vaccinated, 2,527 or 11.55 percent were asymptomatic, 1,947 or 8.9 percent manifested mild symptoms, 240 or 1.1 percent were moderate cases, while 20 or 0.09 percent died.
A total of 8,996 or 41.12 percent of those who have yet to get their COVID-19 jabs, meanwhile, were asymptomatic, while 4,216 or 19.27 percent were experiencing mild symptoms. Five hundred forty or 2.47 percent are moderate cases.
A total of 169 or 0.77 percent of the unvaccinated people died due to the disease.
"'Yung mga nakikita nating active cases natin ngayon... 98 percent niyan ay mild, asymptomatic, or moderate. Ang ibig sabihin lang noon, talagang mayroong mga vaccinated [infected with COVID-19] pero lower incidence rate, compared with the unvaccinated," according to Vega.
(Our active cases now are 98 percent mild, asymptomatic, or moderate. This means that there are vaccinated people infected with COVID-19 but with a lower incidence rate.)
Dr. Rontgene Solante, head of the adult infectious diseases department at San Lazaro Hospital, echoed Vega's statements, and said those still unvaccinated in the region are driving the new infections.
"Napaka-importante na habang nagbibilang tayo kung ilang porsyento, 'wag muna tayo aasa na miski 43 [percent] o 50 [percent], bababa ang mga kaso," Solante explained.
(It's very important that as we continue monitoring the percentages, even with 43 or 50 percent, let's not expect a drop in cases.)
"Mas okay kung bababa. But in the long run, kailangan pa rin nating mabakunahan more than... the 50 percent Makakuha tayo ng 80 percent na vaccination rate sa NCR, hopefully doon natin makikita na mayroong pagbababa ng kaso," he added.
(It's always good to have a drop in cases. But in the long run, we really need to vaccinate more than 50 percent of the target population. Let's aim for 80 percent vaccination rate in NCR, and hopefully, we can already see a decrease in infections.)
DELTA VARIANT'S IMPACT
Aside from the relatively "low" vaccination rate, Solante also blamed the more transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant for the rise in COVID-19 infections.
"Two factors, the Delta is highly transmissible. Number 2, kaunti ang bakunado ilan sa NCR 40 percent, that's so low andun pa rin ang risk sa 60 percent," he said.
(The number of those fully vaccinated is still low in the NCR. That's so low, there's still a risk to those 60 percent still unvaccinated)
Vaccines will protect a person from developing severe illness due to the disease, according to Solante.
"Compared sa unvaccinated, parehas ang viral load pero mabagal ang pagbaba…. that is where the virus can multiply and cause more severe infection," he said.
(Compared with the unvaccinated, their viral load is the same but theirs do go down slowly)
"Breakthrough infections will always be there because vaccines are not 100 percent, we can deal with mild infection but at least the vaccine protects us from severe infection and this is where booster will be in the conversation," he added.
If the region would scale up its COVID-19 immunization program, most especially in smaller communities, Vega said that even hospitalization due to the virus could be prevented.
Vaccine protection remains strong against severe infections and hospitalizations caused by any version of the coronavirus, and those most at risk are still the unvaccinated, according to COVID-19 experts.
Evidence, however, is mounting that the Delta variant is capable of infecting fully vaccinated people at a greater rate than previous versions, and concerns have been raised that they may even spread the virus, according to such experts.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had said building immunity against COVID-19 "typically takes a few weeks."
Johns Hopkins, America's premiere research university, said COVID-19 vaccines do not totally block the virus but definitely "prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death."
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire over the weekend said active cases could still rise in Metro Manila, even if stricter lockdowns were imposed.
She said that based on the health department's projection from around that time until the end of this month when Metro Manila is under MECQ, at least 66,000 new cases may be recorded in the region.
Active infections, meanwhile, could reach 269,000 in the capital region by the end of September under an MECQ setup.
On Monday, the Philippines reported an all-time high 18,332 new COVID-19 cases.
— with reports from Dave Abuel, Vivienne Gulla, and Angel Movido, ABS-CBN News