With an overwhelming 216 votes, the House of Representatives has approved on the third and final reading the measure that would mandate the establishment of a virology institute to spearhead the country’s defense against pandemics like the COVID-19 global public health crisis.
House Bill (HB) 6452 seeks to establish a Virology and Vaccine Institute of the Philippines (VIP) that would primarily focus on the key science and technology applications in the development of vaccines for viruses and other pathogens.
Speaker Martin G. Romualdez, one of the principal authors of the measure, hailed the approval of HB 6542.
He also thanked his colleagues in the lower chamber for recognizing the importance of a virology center and prioritizing a piece of legislation that would help the country combat a pandemic of global proportions.
“What we learned from the last pandemic is that if a health crisis is on a scale that crosses international borders, we have to act fast and rely on our own resources. We need to respond to it effectively. A virology and vaccine institute can help us stop a deadly virus in its tracks,” Romualdez said.
According to the measure, the state will prioritize the establishment of an institute that “will conduct in-depth studies on viruses and their potential disease-causing agents that affect people, plants, and animals, in order to provide the scientific bases for the treatment of viral diseases …” for the prevention of its transmission within the community.
The objectives of the VIP, once established, include:
• Research on viruses and other pathogens using a modern approach such as molecular biology and its application in biotechnology and bioinformatics;
• Development of diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics on viruses and other pathogens;
• International cooperation and network of databases of virus infections;
• Operation of a virology laboratory, virus gene bank, and virus genome laboratory, to focus on viruses circulating in the Philippines for disease prevention and epidemiological studies; and
• Operation of a virus high-containment laboratory dedicated to the study of highly infectious and highly pathogenic viruses.
The VIP is envisioned to serve as the premier research and development institute in the field of virology, “encompassing all kinds of viruses and viral diseases in plants, animals, and humans.”
“It shall also be a venue for scientists, research institutes, and other organizations in the Philippines and abroad, to work collaboratively to study viruses of agricultural, industrial, clinical, and environmental importance,” the bill said.
Also on Monday, the Department of Health (DOH) launched a three-day nationwide COVID-19 vaccination drive to ramp up inoculation uptake among children aged 5 to 17.
DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire and local government officials led the launch of the Bakunahang Bayan from Dec. 5 to 7 in Davao City.
Vergeire emphasized the importance of vaccination, especially among the younger population as schools have reopened for face-to-face classes.
The DOH reported that 5,333,423 kids aged 5 to 11 are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, as of Nov. 30.
This translates to 48.9 percent of the 10.8 million target population for the age group.
Meanwhile, 10,010,095 adolescents aged 12 to 17 have also completed their primary vaccine series.
This was 112 percent of the 8.9 million target population.
At least 1,082,475 or 12 percent of the aged 12 to 17 have also received their first booster dose.
The vaccination push comes as the seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate in the National Capital Region (NCR) has gone up to 12.4 percent, as increases were also seen in 12 Luzon provinces, independent monitoring OCTA Research Group said Monday.
In a tweet, OCTA fellow Guido David said NCR’s positivity rate, which is the percentage of people who were found positive for COVID-19 among the total number of individuals tested, had increased from 11.1 percent on Nov. 26 to 12.4 percent on December 3.
Bataan, Cagayan, Camarines Sur, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Laguna, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Pangasinan, Quezon, Rizal, and Zambales also recorded an increase in positivity rate over the same period.
Nueva Ecija reported the recent highest positivity rate in Luzon at 39.1 percent, up from 32.9 percent on Nov. 26.
This was followed by Camarines Sur with 38.8 percent, and Isabela with 38.6 percent.
Ten provinces in Luzon, on the other hand, showed a decline in positivity rates: Albay, Batangas, Benguet, Bulacan, Cavite, Isabela, Kalinga, La Union, Mountain Province, and Tarlac.
The positivity rate was seen as the lowest in Batangas at 5.2 percent on Dec. 3, down from 5.4 percent on Nov. 26.
The Philippines on Sunday recorded 1,173 new COVID-19 cases—the fourth straight day that above 1,000 new cases were logged nationally.