Health council requires 40% of seniors per area to be covered first
A technicality is delaying booster shots against COVID-19 for children 12 to 17, the Department of Health (DOH) said Sunday.
In a radio interview, National Vaccination Operations Center (NVOC) chairperson and Health Undersecretary Dr. Myrna Cabotaje said the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) had made a condition that boosters can only be given to health adolescents aged 12 to 17 if the booster coverage for senior citizens in their respective areas reaches 40 percent.
“We were confident that after the immunocompromised (adolescents were immunized), the booster vaccination for the rest of the 12 to 17 could begin,” Cabotaje said in Filipino.
“However, we are bargaining with the HTAC about their recommendation.
They want at least 40 percent of an area to have its senior citizens boosted first. The first booster coverage is low. Scientifically, HTAC has a basis, but we are having difficulty operationally,” Cabotaje said.
The rollout of the first COVID-19 booster dose for immunocompromised minors started on Wednesday, but only in hospitals for safety reasons.
Cabotaje said they are still trying to negotiate with the HTAC to allow the booster inoculation for healthy children aged 12 to 17 to begin soon, as long as they meet the five-month interval from their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The HTAC is an independent advisory body made up of health experts that provide guidance to the DOH and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) on the coverage of health interventions and technologies to be funded by the government.
Cabotaje pointed out that the administration of the boosters for ages 12 to 17 has been slow and low, with only 45 children getting boosted in the National Capital Region (NCR) alone.
“It’s a bit low and slow. There are operational problems because of the difficulty in looking for the immunocompromised children,” she said.
She added that mothers want their children inoculated, whether or not they are immunocompromised.
Only the Pfizer booster shot has been granted the emergency use authorization by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration for children ages 12 to 17.
Based on DOH’s latest data, only 14.8 million Filipinos have received their first booster dose, while at least 648,000 got their second booster dose.
At least 70 million individuals are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The DOH recorded 848 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the total nationwide tally to 3,700,876.
The new cases were the highest single-day tally since March.
Active cases increased to 6,761 from 6,425 on Saturday. The number of recoveries climbed to 3,633,096, while the death toll rose to 60,518.
Even as the booster inoculation of adolescents hit a snag, the DOH said it is studying the possibility of allowing adults aged 50 to 59 to get a second COVID-19 booster shot.
Right now, only frontline health workers, senior citizens and the immunocompromised are allowed to get a second booster.
But expanding the coverage to the 50 to 59 age group would require an amended EUA from the FDA, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.