External factors such as typhoon “Odette” in December and the coming May 9 elections have slowed down the country’s vaccination efforts, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said Sunday.
Galvez offered this assessment after the World Bank said Wednesday that vaccination in the Philippines “continued to lag regional peers.”
Galvez said the onslaught of Typhoon Odette in Visayas and Mindanao forced several local government units (LGUs) to suspend their vaccination rollout to respond to the immediate needs of those affected.
The coming national and local elections are also “diverting the attention” of some officials from the vaccination effort, he said.
“It is our hope that our local leaders will have the will to temporarily set aside their personal interests and first ensure the health and protection of their constituents, especially now that the country is experiencing another major surge,” he said.
In its report, the World Bank said: “The slower vaccination and higher mobility during the holiday season are the likely causes why the Philippines is one of the first to experience an Omicron variant surge in the region, recording higher cases per capita than other ASEAN countries, as of Jan. 11.”
But Galvez said that despite the “slow start” due to limited vaccine supplies all over the world in 2021, the Philippines’ vaccination program gained momentum as vaccine shipments started to arrive in bulk in the third quarter of last year.
Galvez said factors affecting the vaccination program of each country vary from one another.
“Many of our neighbors in the region do not share the same challenges that we have, such as our country’s unique geographical landscape being an archipelago of around 7,640 islands wherein delivering the vaccines to far-flung communities can be a major logistical challenge or being frequently hit by typhoons which leave behind a swath of destruction,” he added.
Galvez said the country’s business sector could no longer be held hostage by the health crisis, thus, the need to further open up the economy while putting in place all the necessary health and safety precautions.
“While this may be true to a certain extent, surely the World Bank understands the need to create a balance between protecting the people’s health and breathing life into the nation’s economy,” Galvez said.
Galvez said the Philippines has registered very low COVID-19 caseloads and positivity rates throughout December, a trend which started in the third quarter when vaccination rates significantly increased due to steadier and bigger vaccine deliveries.
“But the Philippines has already learned its lessons from previous surges such as the one caused by the Delta variant. The country’s health care system is now more prepared and better equipped to respond to such surges,” he added.
“This is the reason why the national government continues to collaborate and spearhead programs with private sector partners, as we continue to scale up our vaccination program.”
The government is ramping up the administration of booster shots by partnering with private drug store chains and health clinics.
“With this new program and the concerted effort among all sectors of society, we are confident that we will be able to achieve our goal of fully inoculating 77 million Filipinos within this quarter and administer booster shots to more than 72 million of our countrymen,” Galvez said.
Meanwhile, the government is ramping up preparations to vaccinate children aged 5-11.
Officials say they aim to inoculate 14.7 million kids under this age group with two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Guidelines are being prepared by the country’s immunization task group and the National Vaccination OperationsCenter as they plan to start rolling out shots for these children by February.
At an online seminar held by the University of the Philippines Manila-NIH National Telehealth Center, the Philippine General Hospital, and the Department of Health (DOH), experts said children must be prepared for their jabs.
Epidemiologist Dr. Eric Tayag, for example, said it is crucial for parents to tell their children why vaccination is important.
Tayag cited two reports showing the efficacy of Messenger RNA or mRNA vaccines, the type of vaccine that will be administered to children.
He also cited a study in the New England Journal of Medicine dated Nov. 9, 2021, showing two 10-microgram doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine administered 21 days apart “was found to be safe, immunogenic, and efficacious” in children aged 5-11.
The Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer’s emergency use authorization in December 2021, saying the vaccine had a “robust” antibody response in the age group. It is the only authorized brand so far for use in the 5-to-11 age range.