Due to waning immunity, low booster uptake, lax protocol observance
COVID-19 cases may surge to 17,105 daily by the end of July on the back of lax compliance to health protocols and slow vaccine booster uptake, the Department of Health said.
The DOH based its projections on the FASSSTER model on the assumption that a 21 percent decline in minimum public health standard (MPHS) compliance is maintained.
If compliance improves to 20 percent, the DOH projects daily cases to hit the low estimate of 12,451 by the end of the month.
If compliance deteriorates further to 22 percent, daily cases may hit the higher estimate of 22,197.
The FASSSTER model considers vaccine effectiveness, mobility of the population, minimum public health standards and isolation protocols compliance, and the entry of imported cases.
The DOH also warned that more COVID-19 patients could be hospitalized by the end of August or the start of September as immunity wanes.
On Tuesday, the DOH logged 1,363 new cases, bringing the total number of active infections to 14,464.
Hospital occupancy rate nationwide remained at 21 percent, with 6,107 beds occupied out of 29,018 beds.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in June, the country’s observance of minimum public health standards decreased by 21 percent from the February MPHS rate.
Booster uptake remains a challenge as only 15.3 million of the 71 million fully vaccinated people have received their booster shots.
The DOH said it would set up vaccination sites in areas commonly visited by the public such as schools, public markets and churches, to ramp up booster shot uptake.
In an online media forum on Tuesday, Vergeire said the DOH intended to implement a “settings approach” or establishment of inoculation sites in public spaces to bring the first booster doses closer to the target population.
“Fresh waves of COVID-19 infections show the pandemic is ‘nowhere near over,’ the World Health Organization warned Tuesday, voicing concern the virus is ‘running freely’ as case numbers continue to rise, putting further pressure on stretched health systems and workers.”
“So, when we say settings approach, this can be the schools, this can be the workplaces, this can be in the community,” she said. “Within the community, we will include other places like markets [and] churches.”
The DOH would look for the elderly and people with comorbidities who have yet to receive the primary series of COVID-19 vaccines.
On Monday, infectious diseases expert Dr. Rontgene Solante said the boosted population is “still very low” at less than 20 percent of the target population.
He said it was “high time” to mandate the booster vaccination to the general population.
Citing the vaccination numbers of neighboring Southeast Asian countries, Solante said Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand have reached more than 50 percent of the target population for the booster doses.
“Maybe, it should be mandatory just to increase the protection, especially now we’re preparing for the face-to-face classes in November, and the workplaces are also open now,” he added.
Vergeire, however, said the DOH does not yet see the need to mandate the administration of COVID-19 booster shots.
She said the campaign to get the primary doses in people’s arms was successful, even though inoculation was not mandatory. She added that there is no law mandating vaccination or booster shots.
“It is important to study carefully whether the direction is for us to have a law to make boosters mandatory for everybody. Right now, we don’t see that we need to do that. In the past, we were able to improve and increase our vaccination efforts by implementing the different nudges that we do,” she said in Filipino.
Vergeire recalled that the government implemented an incentive and disincentive scheme before in a bid to encourage Filipinos to get the primary vaccine series against COVID-19.
Some of these former strategies include requiring RT-PCR tests for unvaccinated employees when reporting to work and allowing fully vaccinated individuals to dine indoors and enter other indoor public spaces.
Also on Tuesday, the independent OCTA Research Group said the COVID-19 wave in the National Capital Region (NCR) or Metro Manila may already be close to peaking, after the latest decrease in the weekly growth rate.
Guido David, OCTA fellow, said it is possible the COVID-19 wave in the region could have peaked already, citing the decrease in the growth rate from 57 percent on July 4 to 32 percent on July 11.
David said the positivity rate—or the number of people who test positive for COVID-19 out of the total number of people tested–was 10.9 percent as of July 10.
“The indicators show a slowing down of the growth rate in cases and there is a chance that cases in the NCR are peaking or have already peaked,” David said.
“The trends should be clearer after a week. The seven-day average in cases in the NCR was 710 as of July 11, equivalent to an ADAR (average daily attack rate) of 4.93 per population of 100,000,” he said.
David also said the NCR’s health care utilization rate increased to 28 percent while 20 percent of COVID-19 ICUs in Metro Manila were occupied.
In other developments:
• The Philippines has logged at least 79 additional cases of COVID-19’s Omicron subvariants BA.5, BA.2.12.1, and BA.4 from various regions, the DOH said.
• The DOH rejected the recommendation of stricter border restrictions following the discovery of new Omicron subvariants in other countries. Omicron BA.2.75, which has the possibility of higher transmissibility and immunity escape, has been detected in India, the US and several other countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. The Chinese city of Shanghai has also discovered Omicron subvariant BA.5.2.1. Vergeire said the country cannot “remain closed forever.”