Experts urge heightened vaccination, booster campaign as face-to-face classes near

MANILA, Philippines — Health experts urged the national government Tuesday to vaccinate and give booster shots to more Filipinos to avoid another surge as students prepare to troop back to schools starting August. 

Speaking at the Pandesal Forum earlier Tuesday morning, fellows of the independent pandemic monitor OCTA Research cast fear over the re-opening of classes in the coming months amid the ongoing surge in cases in Metro Manila. 

“[Encouraging more students to get vaccinated] will provide an immunity wall around our children as they travel from their homes to their schools,” OCTA fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco said. 

“We need to do improvements in vaccination roll-out and encourage more to get their booster shot,” OCTA Research fellow Benjamin Vallejo also said as he argued that while stringency and containment are working, other aspects of the national government’s pandemic response including vaccination and contact tracing need improvement.

Dr. Ted Herbosa, a co-member of Advisory Council of Experts who was also present at the Pandesal Forum said that experts were still largely concerned with the low boosting rate in the country. He appealed to the health department’s Health Technology Assessment Council to expand the coverage of the second booster shot to finally include the general population.  

So far, only 15.1 million of the 154.1 million coronavirus vaccine doses administered were booster shots, according to the DOH National COVID-19 Vaccination Dashboard. 

Experts have said that waning immunity against the coronavirus along with increased mobility could trigger small waves of transmission.

‘Living with COVID-19 means vaccinating’

Former Presidential Advisor for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion, founder of business group Go Negosyo, asserted that rolling out booster shots quicker would hasten the country’s entry into the “new normal”, a term often used 

“We are in a spot [where] we just have to accept that this will go on. The solution to our problem is bringing up the levels of booster shots,” he said. 

“If we are able to attain that target of boosting at least 50% then maybe we can make outdoor mask optional.”

OCTA fellow Ranjit Rye shared these sentiments but said that the government should be continuously improving the rest of its pandemic response systems, which includes simplifying the country’s alert level system. 

“Building a safe environment — good ventilation, everybody boosted — I think we can see a time very soon where we will not wear masks anymore, at least outside,” he said. 

“It’s not that we don’t want restrictions anymore… But we believe decoupling would be a good step forward. It’s important we simplify so decisions could be made easily.”

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. earlier Tuesday morning backed retaining the existing COVID-19 Alert Level System for now.

“To avoid confusion, we will retain the alert level system for now. We are, however, thinking, we are studying very closely, and we’ll come to a decision very soon as to decoupling the restrictions from the alert levels,” Marcos said during a meeting with Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, officer-in-charge of the Department of Health.

OCTA fellow Guido David said that while the healthcare utilization rate of below 50% is a “positive development,” cases are still surging. 

“We are still in the midst of a surge, while severe cases are low and healthcare utilization is low, it is still a surge. We inform our countrymen to be careful,” Rye said. — with a report from Gaea Katreena Cabico 


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