The administration of COVID-19 booster shots, as well as the primary vaccine series, are still not mandatory in the country, the Department of Health (DOH) clarified on Thursday.
This came after it was earlier reported (not Manila Standard) that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had agreed to the proposal of the Health Department to require the first booster dose against COVID-19 before a person could be deemed fully vaccinated against the disease.
“We also did not give any statement that boosters will become mandatory. That is not in our directive and pronouncements,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said at the DOH briefing.
“We are saying that we really need to increase the level of booster uptake here in our country because we can see, and even our experts are saying, that our immunity for our population is already waning.
So, we need to raise the level of our vaccinations, specifically our boosters,” she explained.
Meanwhile, the DOH said it detected 140 additional cases of COVID-19’s Omicron subvariant BA.5 from various regions. Vergeire said 99 persons tested positive from Western Visayas, 21 were from the National Capital Region (NCR), seven from Calabarzon, and five from the Ilocos Region.
One BA.5 case each was also identified in Central Luzon, Bicol Region, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Northern Mindanao, Mimaropa, and Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).
One returning overseas Filipino also tested positive for the BA.5 Omicron variant.
Vergeire said there were also 20 more BA.2.12.1 cases recorded in the country, and almost all of them have recovered.
The Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines Inc. (PHAPI) on Thursday supported the push to make the first COVID-19 booster dose a requirement before an individual could be deemed fully vaccinated against the disease.
During the Laging Handa briefing, PHAPI president Dr. Jose de Grano said booster shots are necessary, as the immunity of those who received their primary vaccine series may have waned already.
“We really need to boost our previous vaccines. I think when you’re fully vaccinated, you need to have at least one booster dose,” De Grano said.
Several Health officials on Wednesday morning met with Marcos to discuss the current COVID-19 situation and vaccination coverage in thecountry, and recommended strategies to further improve the government’s pandemic response.
Pressed on what was discussed during the meeting, Vergeire said the topics were only technical and there were no discussions on who the next Health chief will be.
Despite the rising COVID-19 and dengue cases in the country, Marcos has not yet named a DOH leader to replace former Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
Vergeire, however, said Marcos “fully supports” the DOH and the COVID-19 response and vaccination program.
“Our President was able to provide instructions and guidance for the Health department on how we can implement and increase the level of our response for COVID and at the same time improve coverage for our vaccinations here in our country,” Vergeire said.
The DOH earlier announced that adolescents aged 12 to 17 may already receive their booster shot against the viral disease.
Marcos expressed his desire to raise the level of protection of the public against COVID-19 and to prepare for the resumption of full face-to-face classes in schools by November.
De Grano reminded the public the Omicron COVID-19 variant remains “highly contagious” even though the infected only show mild or moderate symptoms.
Marcos on Tuesday likened Omicron to the flu, saying it may be “a little contagious but [it] does not hit as hard” as other variants.
The DOH said this is supported by data.
The agency noted that only 3.09 percent of Omicron cases recorded in the country from December 2021 to February 2022 were in severe or critical condition.
Should the COVID-19 cases in the country continue to increase, De Grano said hospitals are ready to accommodate patients who will be admitted, if there will be enough healthcare workers.