Filipinos to get boosters soon as Omicron looms

 Filipinos to get boosters soon as Omicron looms

FILIPINO adults will be given booster shots against the coronavirus in the next couple of days, according to the Department of Health (DoH), as the world faces the threat of a potentially more contagious Omicron variant.

The local drug regulator has approved the emergency use of the booster shots and the government would soon issue the guidelines, Health Undersecretary Myrna C. Cabotaje told a televised news briefing on Wednesday.

“In the next couple of days, we will have the boosters for all the 18 years old and above,” she said.

The Philippines this month started giving booster shots to health workers, senior citizens and seriously ill people.

The local Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved four vaccine brands as a third dose from Pfizer, Inc., AstraZeneca Plc, Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology.

“It was approved on Monday to include all adults 18 years old and above, based on assessment of benefit and risks similar to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” FDA Director-General Rolando Enrique D. Domingo said in a statement.

The Philippines aims to fully vaccinate 54 million people by the end of the year.

The Omicron variant has yet to be detected in the Philippines, but health experts have said its entry is only a matter of time.

The latest coronavirus variant could pose a greater threat than the Delta variant, which has been causing surges worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. “This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” it said on its website.

At least 5 million people got vaccinated against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the first two days of a three-day national vaccination drive, Ms. Cabotaje said.

The agency has a 9-million target “but just in case we will be unable to reach it, this record is already high,” she said.

She said 2.71 million vaccine doses were given out on Monday and 2.29 million the next day.

Ms. Cabotaje said some Filipinos failed to get vaccinated on Nov. 30, a national holiday, after some health centers closed early.

The government is considering a second round of its three-day vaccination drive on Dec. 15-17 to boost protection against the Omicron variant, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles told the ABS-CBN News Channel.

“The reason for all of this is again, to add a defense against Omicron and whatever variants there are,” he said.

On Monday night, the presidential palace said an inter-agency task force had approved a plan to keep Manila, the capital and nearby cities under Alert Level 2.

All provinces in the country have been placed under Alert Level 2 except Apayao, which is now under Alert Level 3.

The government announced the quarantine levels, which run on Dec. 1 to 15, after it tightened border controls to prevent an outbreak of the Omicron variant, which authorities said has had several mutations.

The Philippines has suspended inbound flights from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy.

It also suspended a plan to allow the entry of fully vaccinated foreign travelers from Dec. 1-15.

The country has been dealing with one of Asia’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks and its vaccine rollout has been slower than many neighbors.

It remained in last place among 53 countries in an updated Bloomberg study that measured the resilience and response of economies to the coronavirus pandemic. It was followed by Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia.

The “perverse consequences of global vaccine inequality have only been underscored by Omicron’s emergence, something that scientists and the World Health Organization had warned will happen — and will keep happening — until the developing world is able to more efficiently access and administer shots,” Bloomberg said in the study released on Wednesday.

South Africa dropped seven spots as other countries cut off travel access to the first country that sequenced the new variant and where it appears to be spreading the fastest. “Cases and positive test rates are also on the rise while vaccination is still only at 43 doses per 100 people.”

Mr. Nograles in a statement noted that while the Bloomberg data could help the Philippines evaluate its pandemic response, it failed to consider “country-specific COVID-19 context.”

“A case in point is the importance given by Bloomberg in reopening progress, which involves lockdown severity, flight capacity and vaccinated travel routes,” he said.

The evidence shows that the alert level system and granular lockdowns that the Philippines enforced in November had allowed the government to “effectively manage COVID-19 risks while providing for an environment conducive to economic growth.”

Active cases continue to fall, with 425 infections added on Nov. 30, the lowest daily tally since July 2020. The coronavirus death rate in the Philippines is also one of the lowest, he added.

“We recently placed fifth-highest in single-day vaccination rates worldwide, with 2.5 million doses administered yesterday during the first day of our Bayanihan, Bakunahan program,” Mr. Nograles said.

As of Nov. 29, more than 35.89 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, nearing the government’s 54-million goal by year-end. More than 46.27 million Filipinos have received their first dose. — Norman P. Aquino and Alyssa Nicole O. Tan