The Philippine government wants to fully vaccinate about seven million individuals against COVID-19 for the second round of the mass vaccination drive from December 15 to 17, the Department of Health said Tuesday.
This will allow the government to reach the target of 54 million fully vaccinated Filipinos by the end of the year, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said at the Laging Handa briefing.
Around 38.7 million individuals have been fully vaccinated against the illness as of December 6, according to the government.
Close to 10 million people were vaccinated after the first round of the national vaccination days, from November 29 to December 3.
Meanwhile, Duque said the Philippines was not changing its definition of “fully vaccinated."
“Our primary series is the same, two-dose primary series vaccination, and then the third is the booster dose,” he said.
The country began administering booster doses last month.
Unvaccinated Filipinos should immediately get inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine to prepare for the entry of the Omicron variant in the country, a priest-scientist said Monday.
Microbiologist Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, a Dominican and fellow of the OCTA Research Group, said during a televised briefing with President Rodrigo Duterte that “caution and preparation” should accompany the observance of the holidays.
Austriaco, currently in the United States, said vaccination, especially of people around the country’s travel gateways, would help stem the spread of the variant, which has not yet been detected in the country.
“I must urge you to get vaccinated. Because Omicron, when it arrives in the Philippines, will find every unvaccinated Filipino and you will get sick,” he said.
“Omicron will enter through an airport most likely. So what we have to do is we have to build a wall of vaccinated Filipinos around these airports. Because once Omicron arrives, it will try to spread into the Filipino population. And if the Filipinos around the airports are heavily vaccinated, then it doesn’t matter if there is an OFW who returns home. Because even if the person is able to enter the community, the virus will struggle,” he said.
Other measures Austriaco proposed for meeting the threat are preparing hospital infrastructure and increased staffing of health care workers.
Citing studies in South Africa, where scientists first discovered the variant, Austriaco said Omicron cases are not rising as fast as those caused by the Delta variant. Another study said Omicron was more transmissible among the vaccinated, many of those hospitalized from the variant were unvaccinated.
The shelf life for some of the expired COVID-19 vaccines in the Philippines was extended, which would allow authorities to use up existing inventory, the Department of Health said Tuesday.
"We wrote to and coordinated with Pfizer. They extended their vaccines which expired. After doing stability studies on their vaccine, they extended by 3 months.),” said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
Duque did not say how many vaccines were covered by the extended expiry date. He said he talked with AstraZeneca representatives on Monday about possibly extending the shelf life of their vaccine, too.
"They will do the same, they will see if the expired vaccines—these are just a few, I believe less than 1 percent expired—they will see if these could be extended without lessening its effectivity, while ensuring its safety,” he said in a televised public briefing.
Duque did not say why the vaccines expired without being used.
The DOH last Friday said it was "finalizing" the report on expiring COVID-19 shots.
"We are looking at where these vaccines are and the reasons that they were not jabbed,” said DOH Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje, chairperson of the National Vaccination Operations Center.
Around 14,000 AstraZeneca doses recently expired in Negros Occidental and were not used in its vaccination drive.
No determination yet
The DOH cannot determine yet if the country’s immunity to COVID-19 is substantial enough until all regions have the same vaccination rates, an official said Tuesday.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire stressed that the number of people vaccinated in each region was different.
“The vaccination numbers are not the same. Here in NCR, they were able to achieve the 70 percent target already but in other regions, vaccination is still low,” Vergeire said in a radio interview.
This was after an OCTA fellow said the Philippines might already be enjoying a substantial level of immunity as the country has been recording its lowest number of cases in 20 months while Filipinos have been allowed the highest mobility.