COVID-19 vaccines

Vaccination of general adult population won’t be a free-for-all, DOH says

Sofia Tomacruz
Vaccination of general adult population won’t be a free-for-all, DOH says

VACCINATION. queue to get Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in a school turned vaccination site that operates 24/7, in Manila, Philippines, August 10, 2021.

Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

The Department of Health says the government will still observe its prioritization framework while it banks on the anticipated arrival of 114 million doses

While Malacañang had announced that President Rodrigo Duterte “approved” the vaccination of the general population against COVID-19, health officials clarified that the rollout of vaccines among adults would still be contingent on the priorities set by the government and the available supply. 

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters on Wednesday, September 29, that the expansion of the government’s vaccine drive would also be taken up further with various expert groups

“This has always been our goal, that we eventually vaccinate the rest of the adult population…. This adult population, all who are 18 [years old] and above, are already okay to be vaccinated, but we have prioritization [frameworks to observe],” Vergeire said in a mix of English and Filipino during a press briefing. 

“This pronouncement of our President was just made this week. It was given yesterday and this will still be discussed with our experts,” she added in Filipino.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said on Tuesday, September 28, that Duterte would allow the vaccination of the general population after vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr advised him on such, adding the wider rollout could start in October. 

In a separate briefing on Wednesday, DOH Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje, who heads the national vaccine operation center, offered a timeline that could begin “maybe at the end of October or beginning of November” as more doses were expected to arrive. 

Currently, the country’s vaccine drive is open to adults belonging to its first five priority groups, which include health workers, senior citizens, people with comorbidities, economic frontliners, and the indigent population. Together, the groups make for sectors in its “A category.” 

Once more vaccine doses become available, Vergeire said, the government would be able to move onto its corresponding groups in B and C categories of the priority framework. These include:

  • B1: Teachers, social workers 
  • B2: Other government workers 
  • B3: Other essential workers 
  • B4: Socio-demographic groups at significantly higher risk other than senior citizens and indigent people 
  • B5: Other remaining workforce 
  • C: Rest of the Filipino population not otherwise included in the above groups

Overseas Filipino workers had initially been included among workers in the government’s B-category, although they were later bumped up and included in the A1 priority group.

The Philippines is banking on the timely arrival of about 114 million doses in the fourth quarter to open its vaccination drive to a larger population, Vergeire said. 

The target number of doses the country wants to see delivered is almost twice as much as the 69 million doses that have landed since late February. Recent months have likewise seen delays in scheduled arrivals

Aside from this, health officials will also consider vaccine coverage among individuals who are part of its first five priority sectors. 

“We will try to weigh if most of the vulnerable population have already been vaccinated. We also need to look at our metrics for vaccine coverage so we can better encourage our local governments to increase vaccinations when more supplies arrive,” Vergeire said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

Since initially focusing on vaccinations in high-risk areas like Metro Manila and regions that early on saw spikes in COVID-19 cases, the national government has been sending supplies increasingly to provinces and regions that have to wait for months for vaccines.

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On Wednesday, health officials said that what’s “most important” at the moment is reaching the unvaccinated who were most vulnerable to the disease. 

“Even though we expand to the rest of the population as supplies come in, our priorities still need to be there. Complete A1, A2, and A3 – the most important sectors in terms of severe disease and death. This is what we’ll do right now. And for children, those with underlying illnesses and comorbidities,” Vergeire said in Filipino. 

Nearly seven months into the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the Philippines, just about 20% of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated.

The government has set out to achieve several vaccine targets like “population protection” of Metro Manila, a “better” Christmas through vaccination, and at least 70% of the population covered by the end of 2021. 

The country aims to eventually reach at least 90% of its population. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.