Frontliners should be prioritized once COVID-19 vaccine becomes available: expert

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 24 2020 10:39 AM

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MANILA – With COVID-19 vaccines on the horizon, frontline workers shall be the first in line to receive it once it becomes available, an infectious disease expert said Tuesday.

Speaking to ANC’s “Matters of Fact,” Dr. Edsel Salvana said health-care workers who fill a critical role in caring for COVID-19 patients should be prioritized in the vaccine distribution.

The Philippine government must also include law enforcers, grocery store workers and public utility drivers, among others who provide critical services and help preserve the economy, in the vaccine rollout, he added.

“Those should be the priority people who are more likely to get it and more likely to transmit it,” said Salvana, a member of the technical advisory group that advises the Department of Health (DOH).

The World Health Organization (WHO) earlier identified 12 priority vulnerable groups for the mass inoculation based on its Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) guideline released in September.

They are the frontline health-workers from the public and private sectors; indigent senior citizens, remaining senior citizens; indigent population; and uniformed personnel.

Other priorities are teachers and school workers from public and private institutions; government workers; essential workers in agriculture, food industry, transportation and tourism; socio-demographic groups at significantly higher risk like people deprived of liberty; people with disabilities and Filipinos living in high density areas; overseas Filipino workers; other remaining work force; and students.

While the UN health agency’s recommendation is based on “sound science,” Salvana noted that the WHO is “always recommendatory.”

“We do have to localize our recommendation depending on what's actually happening on the ground. But in general, the WHO framework is sound,” he said.

Frontline workers wear personal protective equipment as they man the entrance of the emergency room at Gat Andres Bonifacio Memorial Medical Center in Tondo, Manila, March 24, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File

The health agency said Monday it was unable to come up with a list of COVID-19 vaccine recipients because of a lack of the final list of vaccines for procurement.

“We cannot give a list of the people who will be vaccinated,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual briefing.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier said vaccines against the contagious disease could arrive before the second year of 2021.

During the interview, Salvana proposed of creating an agency akin to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in preparation for the next pandemic.

“What we need is a public health focus agency that will coordinate all these response and make sure that what's on the laboratory is being translated on the ground,” he said.

“On top of that, having quarantine powers, having ways to coordinate and access funding for all these emergency preparedness because our government procurement system is really fossilized.”

Salvana, also the director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the National Institutes of Health at the University of the Philippines Manila, warned the next pandemic could come from the influenza virus.

“The more likely the next pandemic is probably still gonna be an influenza pandemic because influenza just keeps on rearranging its genes all over the place,” he said.

“And even now we're seeing more bird flu and swine flu all the time. That's the more likely one. But it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we may get another coronavirus pandemic because we are intruding into places where there are a lot of wild animals.”