The government is considering conducting vaccination house calls for high-risk senior citizens, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said at a briefing at the House of Representatives Monday.
“The house-to-house [vaccination program] is possible and doable. It is included in our planning for the very, very vulnerable and high-risk senior citizens,” Duque told the House committee on health.
But Duque was quick to say the idea is “more of an exception rather than the rule” because the original objective is for individuals to go to designated vaccination sites to receive the vaccines.
Duque told congressmen that the COVID-19 vaccines that will arrive before the first quarter of the year ends will be safe, equitable and cost-effective.
National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. and health experts from the public and private sectors attended the briefing.
Galvez reiterated his earlier announcement that the first doses of the vaccines are expected to arrive before the first quarter of this year ends.
The vaccine roadmap, Duque said, seeks to promote sustainable public immunization for the next three to five years.
He added that the country may reach herd immunity within the year if there is enough global supply of COVID-19 vaccines that the country can access and use.
Duque earlier said the government identified 4,512 fixed COVID-19 vaccination points across the country. He said this system will be similar to election poll sites and that existing medical centers and rural health facilities will be used.
The Philippines aims to inoculate 50 million to 70 million people within the year.
Galvez said areas with a high COVID-19 incidence such as Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Davao will be given priority in the vaccination rollout where 24,668,128 sectoral priorities have been selected–1,762,994 frontline health workers; 3,789,874 indigent senior citizens; 5,678,544 remaining senior citizens; 12,911,193 remaining indigent population; and 525,523 uniformed personnel, which accounts for more than 22 percent of the country’s projected population of 108.8 million, as of the third quarter this year.
Galvez said that those who will be vaccinated also includes teachers and social workers in the public and private sectors followed by all remaining government workers; essential workers in agriculture, the food industry, transportation and tourism; sociodemographic groups in significantly higher risk areas other than the senior citizens and indigent population such as those persons deprived of liberty, persons with disabilities, and Filipinos living in high-density areas; overseas Filipino workers; other remaining workforce; and the remaining Filipino citizens.
Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan, who chairs the committee, emphasized the need to expedite the COVID-19 immunization program and ensure that it is safe and effective and that all agencies concerned are on the same page.
“We cannot afford to make mistakes at this critical juncture in our fight against the pandemic. We have to be on time for the COVID-19 inoculation drive. We need the vaccine rollout to be ready without compromising its safety and efficacy in order to build the trust and confidence of the public,” Tan said.
Meanwhile, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Director General Eric Domingo, said the emergency use authorization was granted to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine after a thorough review of the currently available data by medical and regulatory experts.
Also on Monday, the Department of Health (DOH) said intensified information dissemination on the benefits of getting a COVID-19 vaccine can increase vaccine confidence up to 85 percent.
Health Maria Rosario Vergeire made the comment in response to health workers—the first priority in the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program—who are skeptical of getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
“During our recent town hall meetings, we do a survey at the start. It is 60 percent [at the start] and after, it goes up to 80 percent to 85 percent. That’s why we can see the importance of relaying information,” Vergeire said.
The DOH has so far conducted town hall meetings with medical associations and nurses’ groups.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque, meanwhile, said President Rodrigo Duterte may get the first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine once it is approved for domestic use by the FDA to convince more Filipinos to get immunized.
But Roque said it is Duterte’s decision.
“Let’s wait for the President’s final decision,” Roque said in a televised Palace press briefing
“He really wants to get vaccinated to show the country that it is safe and effective,” he added.
Duque on Monday said the government’s priority list for vaccinations would be followed and that there would be no VIPs that jump the line.
He offered this assurance after ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro said she wanted to know that VIP vaccinations have already stopped.
In December, the Department of Health issued its list of priority groups for the vaccine rollout. The first priority are frontline health workers, followed by senior citizens, indigent Filipinos, and uniformed personnel.
But later that same month, President Rodrigo Duterte bared that some members of the military had already received an unauthorized COVID-19 vaccine from Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinopharm.
In other developments:
* Roque said the public should not listen to comedians when determining the safety and efficacy of vaccines—in a clear response to a comedian’s social media post that challenged the Palace spokesman’s view that the public should not be choosy about which vaccine they will get. Last week, Vice Ganda took to Twitter saying if Filipinos are choosy when it comes to laundry soap, what more when it comes to vaccines.
* Customs personnel at Ninoy Aquino International Airport are now preparing for the COVID-19 vaccine shipments expected to arrive in Manila next month.
* The Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF) was urged Monday to implement a massive information campaign on the different COVID-19 vaccines. San Jose Del Monte City Rep. Florida Robes made this statement to allay the fears about the safety and efficacy of the different vaccines that are already being distributed in other countries.