COVID-19 vaccines

Philippines pushes for ‘family vaccinations’ to rev up COVID-19 inoculations

Sofia Tomacruz
Philippines pushes for ‘family vaccinations’ to rev up COVID-19 inoculations

VACCINE DRIVE. Minors accompanied by their parents or guardian are vaccinated with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Marikina Sports Complex during the rollout of the Pediatric COVID-19 Vaccination in Marikina City on November 3, 2021.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

If there are unvaccinated seniors, adults, and newly eligible 12 to 17 year-olds living in one household, health officials encourage getting vaccinated together

Philippine health officials want families with multiple unvaccinated members living in the same household to receive their COVID-19 vaccine together as the government chases targets it set out to meet by the end of the year. 

Eight months since coronavirus vaccines became available in the Philippines, the number of people fully vaccinated against the virus has hovered at about 25% of the total population, with 27.7 million individuals receiving two doses of a vaccine. Pandemic officials want, at the very least, to double this in just two month’s time to have 50% of the country’s 110 million people fully vaccinated before 2021 closes. 

By encouraging vaccinations by families, officials aim to maximize on the recent eligibility of 12.7 million minors aged 12 to 17 who are now cleared to get a COVID-19 shot, along with the rest of the general adult population to whom vaccinations were opened to in October. 

With more members of a household covered, health officials then want to entice a specific priority sector of the vaccine drive: senior citizens aged 60-years-old and above who have held out on getting a shot. Despite becoming eligible for vaccination in April, official figures showed there were still some 43% of individuals in the elderly population who have yet to be fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, November 2.

“We are hoping that with the opening up of our pediatric age group, our grandfathers and grandmothers will be encouraged to get vaccinated…. It’s important that families are protected. If the whole family is vaccinated, they are protected,” Department of Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje said in a mix of English and Filipino during a forum on Wednesday, November 3. 

Cabotaje heads the Philippines’ National Vaccine Operation Center (NVOC) which oversees the daily moves of local government units (LGUs) when administering shots. 

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Slow rollout

Up until October, COVID-19 vaccinations had mainly been open to priority sectors of the government due to limited supplies. But with over 40 million doses spread out in warehouses across the country, national and local officials are facing the growing challenge of efficiently rolling out doses

Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation chief resilience officer and public-private Taskforce T3 member Bill Luz told Rappler one hurdle officials in communities needed to overcome was shifting out of a “scarcity mindset” now that more doses have arrived in the country, and beyond the initial priority area of Metro Manila. 

Along with NVOC officials, T3, which helps provide technical assistance to the government, met with local officials in late October to set out daily targets each LGU would need to meet in terms of the number of people it needed to vaccinate daily, and the number of days within which it needed to administer doses and use its vaccine stocks. 

Part of this included advice to LGUs to find ways to reach more people in their communities such as through family vaccinations. 

“We thought we should take a family-centric approach because many people live in a multi-generational household. That’s very Filipino. Three generations living in a single household is not unusual,” Luz told Rappler. “Let’s get everybody, especially now that there are enough vaccines.”

In the early months of the vaccine drive, health officials cited the elderly’s giving way to younger members of the household as one reason they refused a vaccine. 

Luz added, ”This way the unit remains whole and the senior, we think, will be more encouraged and more enthusiastic about getting vaccinated knowing that their whole household is going to be vaccinated. Not that their household is going in three separate trips to get vaccinated…. That’s also part of the reason why we can’t open up, because we’re keeping more people in the household.”

Cabotaje said the DOH agreed with the approach and added some LGUs were already implementing this in areas where the set up was possible. 

Aside from specific targets set, the government has also vowed to usher in a “better Christmas” for Filipinos this year. Enticing families to get vaccinated lined up with the holiday season, when an increase in consumption is anticipated in November and December and Filipinos traditionally gather with extended family to celebrate.

With at least 60 million more doses expected to arrive in the coming months, Cabotaje said national health officials are also hoping to see localities outside Metro Manila and areas that were initially prioritized for vaccines develop a rhythm in administering doses to meet a target of jabbing 1.5 million doses daily in the coming weeks. 

“They haven’t developed the cadence. It’s still business as usual, like for old vaccinations. It needs to be much faster now. It is an emergency. If the vaccines are there, they need to be jabbed right away,” Cabotaje said in Filipino. – 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.