THE World Health Organization has recommended giving a third or additional dose to senior citizens who received Sinovac and Sinopharm, according to WHO country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe.
The agency also recommended a third dose for immunocompromised people if they have completed the primary series of vaccination because “they are not capable of developing and sustaining the level of immunity.”
Giving the third dose should start with “the most severely immunocompromised, and then for the elderly of over 80 years old then moving down to over 70s and then over 60s,” he clarified.
He said the third dose is not booster as a booster shot is given if the level of immunity of a person goes down several months after completing the vaccination while the third or additional dose is administered if a person could not develop sufficient immunity despite being inoculated.
The Health Technology Assessment Council headed by Dr. Marita Tolentino-Reyes recommended to give booster shots to health care workers, the elderly and immunocompromised individuals, but the Department of Health said they cannot implement this yet as they are waiting for WHO-Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunization (SAGE) on the matter, which will be out in November.
In a letter to Duque dated Oct. 13, HTAC chair Dr. Tolentino-Reyes underscored that the recommendations shall guide the vaccination rollout for the fourth quarter of 2021 and 2022.
“We emphasize that these recommendations are being offered in consideration of sufficient vaccine supply and acceptable coverage for primary vaccination,” she said.
Based on HTAC’s interim recommendations, booster shots must be given to health care workers in the fourth quarter of 2021 and among elderly priority groups in 2022.
For immunocompromised individuals, the third or additional dose must be administered in 2021 and 2022.
The HTAC recommended that Pfizer-BioNTech be given as boosters for those who received the same brand as primary series. Those originally given AstraZeneca can be given the same brand or Pfizer while those who received Janssen can only be given Janssen. Those who earlier received Coronavac or Sinovac can be jabbed with the same brand or Pfizer or AstraZeneca.
The DoH said pharma companies would have to apply for the amendment of their initial emergency use authorization (EUA) issued by the Food and Drug Administration before their jabs can be used as booster doses.
Vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said two million doses will be allotted for healthcare workers and five million for the immunocompromised and the elderly. It can start by November since most of those in these categories were vaccinated in the months of March to May, with a total of 5.3 million doses administered during that period.
Galvez said the government is awaiting WHO-SAGE to issue guidelines which kind of vaccination will be allowed—heterologous (doses are from different manufacturers) or homologous (doses from same manufacturer).
“In this case, if your first two doses are from Sinovac, you may be injected with a dose from Pfizer or Moderna,” Galvez said.
Full FDA approval of Western vaccines sought
“Noting the low vax rates in the regions, I throw my support to calls for the FDA issuance of full approval to the Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sputnik, and Janssen COVID vaccines,” said Agusan del Norte (1st District) Rep. Lawrence Fortun of the House minority bloc.
Another House minority solon, BHW Party-list Rep. Angelica Natasha Co, said, “Kapag tinignan ninyo yung latest data, nagdudumilat yung katotohanan na 16 out of 17 regions sa Pilipinas ang ni hindi pa umaabot sa 35 percent ang bahagdan ng mga fully-vaccinated!”
“Napakababa po nyan. Napag-iwanan talaga kaming mga taga-probinsya. Sa amin sa Bicol region 16.83% lang, ang BARRM mas kawawa, 9.47 percent lang,” Co added.
Co said vaccine supply “remains a problem because the shipments that arrive at the airports are not getting into the arms of Filipinos fast enough. Premature elation (of NTF-COVID) should instead be prudently cautious optimism.”
“There are wide gaps from shipment arrivals to transport and then to vax sites. Look closely at the figures, those gaps are in the order of tens of millions, not mere hundreds of thousands or a few millions,,” Co noted.
Far from satisfactory
Fortun said he understands the strategic importance of NCR in the fight against COVID, (but) “the relative weight and care for the rest of the country is far from satisfactory on a regional basis.”
“Full FDA approval will enable the private sector, the private hospitals, pharmacies, and the doctors to order those vaccines directly without need for any pact with the NTF,” he said.
“Let the donated vaccines and procured vaccines be for the Filipinos who are poor, the low income, and some of the middle income. Let those Filipinos and companies who can afford to or chose to buy their own vaccines from hospitals and pharmacies get those vaccines,” Fortun explained.
He said full approval of COVID vaccines will improve vax rates.
“The waiting lines at vaccine venues will get shorter and move faster because those who go direct to the hospitals, doctors, clinics and pharmacies no longer have to lineup. The poor and low- income Filipinos will therefore get vaxxed faster because of the shorter lines.”
“Vaccine hesitancy would also lessen because of the impact of and confidence resulting from full FDA approval.
Co said authorities must ensure transparency so that partisan politics do not sneak into the distribution process.
“Bigyan na kasi ng full approval (Certificate of Product Registration) yung ilang piling bakuna vaccines para maging available na sa botika.Commercial availability of COVID vaccines will get more people vaxxed faster because citizens can get vaxxed with the doctors of their choice and without depending on the IATF, NTF, and LGUs,” she said.
“Payagan na nila ang private sector na direkta at malayang makapag-import ng bakuna para sa kanilang mga empleyado. No more red tape please. Wag na nating pahirapan ang private sector na gustong tumulong para makamit natin ang herd immunity sa lalong madaling panahon,” Co also said.
Having gone through all the proposals and prognosis of our different leaders, I suggest that: 1) vaccines that have least problems with logistics (storage in coolest transport freezers) be sent to far-flung areas while those which are temperature-sensitive be administered in urban centers with advanced logistics facilities; 2) we must manufacture our own vaccines right here—seek licenses with foreign vaccine makers; 3) allow those willing to be vaccinated to get the jabs and those that refuse to just take care of themselves; 4)give the third dose ASAP to the priority sectors (for those that availed of the second dose of Sinovac or Sinopharm between March and May) and should supply be sufficient to get the third jab for those that obtained the second dose of Sinovac after May.
At the rate we are opening our economy, including for leisure, travel and pleasure (cinemas, gyms, museums etc), including the Dolomite beach along Roxas Blvd. we may be seeing a resurgence of the virus.
We should have proceeded cautiously in easing restrictions.
At this point, are we really ready with all our health facilities, vaccines and medicines should another wave come upon us? I doubt it strongly.