COVID-19

Why stop daily COVID-19 bulletins? Focus on jabs, hospitalization rates

Pia Ranada
Why stop daily COVID-19 bulletins? Focus on jabs, hospitalization rates

GETTING A BOOST. Residents queue at a vaccination site in Manila in December to receive COVID-19 vaccine booster shots. Rappler

Rappler

Malacañang says the government hopes the number of cases won't be as critical a metric because of how jabs are supposed to prevent hospitalization

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang defended the national government’s decision to stop posting daily COVID-19 bulletins on social media starting 2022, saying that with vaccinations rising in the country, daily case reports may not be as relevant anymore.

Acting Presidential Spokesman and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles also gave assurances on Tuesday, December 28, that the government would still be monitoring the new daily case reports and watching closely for any trends that could be a red flag for Omicron variant local transmission.

“The reason behind that is, right now, we are really ramping up our vaccinations and the focus right now is the vaccinations,” said Nograles in a Palace press briefing.

“We may see that cases of Covid will be mild and asymptomatic because, with so many Filipinos fully vaccinated, the transmission may still be there but what vaccination does is prevent severe, critical cases, hospitalization, and death,” he added.

The Palace official, who also sits as pandemic task force co-chairman, may be referring to a phenomenon called decoupling in which, because of widespread vaccination, the rise in COVID-19 cases does not lead to a corresponding rise in hospitalizations and deaths. This means that, though infections are rising in an area, not as many people as before are getting hospitalized or dying as a result of their infection.

This is an effect of COVID-19 vaccination because most vaccines are highly effective in preventing severe illness and death.

Thus, if the daily climb in cases is not as worrisome as it was early in the pandemic, the government wants to focus on metrics that would be more critical baselines: the vaccination rate and health care utilization rate.

“So our focus will be the vaccination rate and looking at hospital utilization rate, looking at critical and severe and even moderate cases,” said Nograles.

What about Omicron?

But the government’s decision comes as the threat of the more transmissible Omicron variant looms over the country. The Omicron variant can evade some of the immune responses triggered by most vaccines. In some vaccinated people, especially those who are immunocompromised, defenses against severe disease and death may not be as robust as with previous variants.

The Philippines currently detected four Omicron cases, all persons who appeared to have gotten infected abroad. No local transmission has been confirmed yet.

Nograles said that people who want to monitor the cases added daily in order to track any Omicron-driven spread can still do so using the Department of Health’s COVID-19 tracker, found in their website. The site contains figures on testing rates, test positivity, cases per geographic region, and other important statistics.

“The Covid Tracker will suffice for now in providing the regular updates to our countrymen and the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases) will continue to monitor that,” said the Palace official.

“We will continue to monitor active cases, new cases. Just the format has changed but we’re not saying we will no longer monitor,” he added.

As for Omicron, the national government is “closely looking” at areas for any rise in cases. Once officials see a “clustering of increased cases” in any area, test samples from their will be subjected to genome sequencing to determine if the infections are due to Omicron.

Over 47 million people are fully vaccinated through the government’s vaccine drive, around 44% of the country’s population. Nograles said the goal is for fully vaccinated people in the country to reach 77 million in the first quarter of 2022. – 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.