COVID-19 vaccines

Experts to gov’t: Devote 90% of vaccines to NCR for herd immunity before Christmas

Pia Ranada
Experts to gov’t: Devote 90% of vaccines to NCR for herd immunity before Christmas

JAB OF HOPE. Residents receive their first jab of the Pfizer vaccine during the vaccination roll out at the Makati Medical Center on Wednesday, May 12, 2021.

Rappler

'You win the battle in the National Capital Region, you win the war against COVID for the whole country,' says Octa Research fellow Ranjit Rye

Experts of the Octa Research group called on the national government to devote 90% of all COVID-19 vaccines to Metro Manila, saying mathematical models show that this is the fastest way to contain the pandemic and open the economy.

“The reason why we undertook modeling is precisely to show that the most efficient way to end the pandemic is to focus 90% of our shots to the NCR (National Capital Region),” said Octa Research fellow Father Nicanor Austriaco, a molecular biologist, during a Kapihan sa Manila Bay virtual press conference on on Wednesday, May 19.

The remaining 10% of the country’s vaccine supply should go to medical frontliners and senior citizens in the rest of the country since they are most at risk for COVID-19, he added.

Their mathematical models showed that devoting 100% of vaccine supply to Metro Manila would halve the number of active COVID-19 cases nationwide. Allocating 90% would still reduce active cases by 30%.

Based on the latest Department of Health data, Metro Manila has received 36% of the country’s vaccines.

The DOH had previously thumbed down suggestions to devote all vaccines to Metro Manila, saying this would drive inequity.

What’s the government’s current strategy?

The current strategy of the National Task Force Against COVID-19 is to “prioritize” nine regions in vaccine distribution – Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal, Laguna, Pampanga, Batangas, Metro Davao, and Metro Cebu, referred to as “NCR Plus 8.”

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Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr explained that these areas are all experiencing COVID-19 transmissions and are also economically important.

However, mathematician Guido David, also an Octa Research fellow, has said that while areas outside Metro Manila and Calabarzon are seeing higher case counts, their overall case loads are not nearly as alarming as Metro Manila’s.

Containment, herd immunity by December

Targeting containment, then herd immunity within Metro Manila, is a lot more doable than the government’s previous goal of herd immunity for the entire country, said Austriaco.

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Based on their computations, if the government adopts their recommendation, Metro Manila would have enough vaccines to “contain” the pandemic by mid-July.

Containment means that 40% to 50% of an area’s population has been vaccinated, reducing the attack rate to below one in every 100,000. Israel and the United States have reached this threshold, said Austriaco.

Achieving containment means the country can safely reopen the economy.

To reach containment, 6.21 million Metro Manila residents, or 45% of its 13.8 million population, should be fully vaccinated.

The vaccine doses required to do this – 12.42 million doses – would be available in mid-July, if the government keep its schedule of vaccine deliveries. Galvez latest assurance regarding vaccine delivered was during a Malacañang press briefing on Tuesday, in May 18, that some 10 million more doses would arrive in June – a mix of AstraZeneca, Sinovac, Moderna, and Sputnik V vaccines.

Herd immunity, or the vaccination of 70% to 80% of an area’s population, could also be more likely achieved within the year if the government adopts Octa Research’s proposal, the group said.

To do this, 9.66 million people in Metro Manila would have to be vaccinated. A little over 19 million doses will be required to do this, a stockpile that the country would have by the end of July, if all expected deliveries arrive.

But another factor to these projections is how fast the government can vaccinate people in Metro Manila.

To achieve containment and herd immunity this year, Austriaco said that the megacity should be injecting 200,000 people every day. This target is doable since the government has managed to reach 120,000 jabs a day, from the average 30,000 jabs a day in previous weeks.

Set aside politics, stick to science

Political science professor Ranjit Rye, who is also with Octa Research, acknowledged the political risks of focusing 90% of vaccines to Metro Manila, long derided as “imperial Manila.”

But the group said the science and mathematical simulations show prioritizing Metro Manila is the optimal way to beat the pandemic given the limited supply of vaccines.

“People say it’s political suicide but actually it’s a political achievement or success for the government if they can claim one win in a particular front, the biggest front. You win the battle in the National Capital Region, you win the war against COVID for the whole country,” said Rye.

Austriaco likened the pandemic in Metro Manila to the head of a snake.

“If you want to kill the pandemic, you have to cut the head off. The reason why there are cases in other regions in the Philippines is because there are cases moving from NCR to these regions,” he said.

The group cited Puerto Princesa, Iloilo, and Bacolod transmissions that stemmed from visitors from Metro Manila.

Rye said, “I hope government will take politics out, put in the science and encourage our private sector, civil society to get on the same page and achieve something this year, as far as vaccination is concerned.” – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.