The Department of Health (DOH) said on Monday, October 18, that the government was planning to administer a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine for the country’s immunocompromised group.
“Let me just clarify that the recommendation for now and plans underway [are] for the third doses, and not the boosters,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Vergeire made the clarification when she was asked about the difference between a third dose and a booster shot.
In a Viber message to reporters on Monday afternoon, Vergeire said that the DOH has a list of those who will be given priority for the third dose – individuals from the immunocompromised group or the A3 sector in the government’s priority listing for vaccination.
“We need to wait for the EUA (emergency use authorization) from FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and [then finalize] the plan,” she said.
Vergeire added: “The COVID-19 vaccination guidelines outlines conditions that will need clearance because they are immunocompromised. This list will be further expounded on when we develop guidelines for additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines.”
“But we clarify that not all comorbidities are included in [the] list of immunocompromised. All other Priority Group A3 conditions are not considered immunocompromised,” she added.
3rd dose vs booster shot
What’s the difference between a third dose and a booster shot?
Vergeire said that a third dose is given as part of the primary series of vaccination. She said other vaccines, like those against Hepatitis B, are administered in three doses.
“What evidence and experts are saying is that immunocompromised individuals cannot mount that appropriate immune response with just two doses, that’s why they need one dose to complete it,” Vergeire said in a mix of English and Filipino.
On October 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that immunocompromised people be given an additional dose of a COVID-19 vaccine due to a higher risk of breakthrough infections after standard immunization.
The Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunization said the additional dose should be offered “as part of an extended primary series since these individuals are less likely to respond adequately to vaccination following a standard primary vaccine series and are at high risk of severe COVID-19 disease.”
As for booster doses, Vergeire explained that they are given to individuals who are fully vaccinated and whose immune response is already waning.
“Ito ‘yung naka-receive na ng primary series ng bakuna. Ibig sabihin, fully vaccinated ka na at naka-receive ka ng dalawang dose, or kapag Janssen, one dose pero may ebidensiya na nagpapakita na bumababa na ang immunity ng tao that’s why need mo ng booster,” she said.
(They are the ones who’ve already received the primary series of the vaccination. It means that you are fully vaccinated and have already received two doses of the vaccine, or if Janssen, one dose, but evidence suggest that you have waning immunity, that’s why you need a booster.)
Vergeire said that the government would wait for the full recommendation of the WHO regarding booster doses – expected to be out by November – before deciding on administering booster doses.
There has been an ongoing debate about giving booster doses. The DOH said that aside from the limited studies 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.