COVID-19 vaccines

DOH on COVID-19 booster shots: No sufficient data, not equitable for now

Lian Buan
DOH on COVID-19 booster shots: No sufficient data, not equitable for now

VACCINATION. Vaccine Express - Quezon City continued for its second day on Friday, August 13, at the Robinsons Novaliches Open Parking.

Jay Ganzon/OVP

'Many of our countrymen still need to be vaccinated, and if we do booster dosing, it will again disenfranchise those who still need to be vaccinated,' says Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire

The Department of Health (DOH) said on Saturday, August 14, that aside from limited study available on the safety of COVID-19 booster shots, it may not be equitable to allow them right now when many Filipinos still haven’t been vaccinated.

Responding to questions at the government’s Laging Handa briefing on Saturday, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that local health experts are looking into the COVID-19 booster shot but there is no sufficient evidence yet to ensure that this is safe.

“The equity component is another factor. Many of our countrymen still need to be vaccinated, and if we do booster dosing, it will again disenfranchise those who still need to be vaccinated like others,” she added in a mix of English and Filipino.

Only around 11.88% of the country’s population have received the first of two doses of vaccines that require two doses. Meanwhile, those who have been fully vaccinated represent around 10.34% of the population, based on the latest data.

“Our goal is population protection. Let us vaccinate as many in the population so they get protected that even if they catch the Delta variant, we still have that reduced risk of being hospitalized because of severe infection,” Vergeire said in a mix of English and Filipino.

The health official added there is still no sufficient study on the safety of booster shots, adding that only AstraZeneca has provided initial data on the matter.

The United States Food and Drug Administration has just authorized a third dose of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna for the immunocompromised.

Vergeire said that if studies verify the safety of COVID-19 booster shots, and that it would provide added protection to Filipinos, then Philippine health officials would support it. “If it’s going to be good for the population, we will do that,” she said.

In the Philippines, the Quezon City government has sued those who have gotten booster shots under a city ordinance that prohibits “misrepresentation of vaccine status for purposes of fraud or deceit.”

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Hazard pay

During the briefing, Vergeire also said that the DOH released on June 30 around P9 billion for the Special Risk Allowance (SRA) of health care workers in field offices and hospitals on June 30.

But medical front liners have complained that their SRAs were either delayed or too small. Some have threatened to resign.

“I hope we can talk about your grievances because this will surely affect our situation where we need to take care of Filipinos,” Vergeire appealed to the front liners.

She said they are working with regional offices to finalize a list of positions and jobs that would qualify for the benefits.

“People have to understand there is a specific computation for SRA, it is pro-rated based on the number of days you reported to work,” said Vergeire.

Vergeire said hospitals can appeal to the DOH regional offices for inclusion of some of their staff.

The 2020 audit report of the DOH showed the department did not obligate P11.8 billion worth of funds by yearend, part of which were supposed to be for SRA and hazard pay. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.