COVID-19

COVID-19 Weekly Watch: One question we should be asking about the virus

COVID-19 Weekly Watch: One question we should be asking about the virus

LIVING IN A PANDEMIC. File photo of mall goers inside a mall in Manila.

Dante Diosina Jr./Rappler

This week of June 19, 2022, we look at what needs to be asked as cases rise, what happens after 70 million Filipinos are vaccinated, and developments on vaccines for little kids

MANILA, Philippines – The number of coronavirus cases in the Philippines continued to increase in the recent week, with an average of 350 new infections reported each day. 

Vaccination continues to move slowly with roughy 63% of all Filipinos fully vaccinated – a figure that has seen little movement in weeks.

Here’s what we’re watching this week of June 19, 2022:

Headed for another surge?

After watching and waiting to see whether there will be a sustained increase in cases, Metro Manila is now seeing the continued growth of infections, prompting some people to ask: Will there be another surge? On a national level, case numbers are at their highest since April. 

  • Over the past week, the Department of Health said 11 cities in Metro Manila were showing an increase in cases: Makati, Parañaque, San Juan, Mandaluyong, Muntinlupa, Las Piñas, Pasig, Manila, Quezon City, Valenzuela, and Marikina. 
  • Makati and Parañaque have shown a slight increase in the numbers of beds occupied in intensive care units, with roughly half of dedicated COVID-19 beds filled. 
  • Case numbers are almost certainly an undercount because there are still those who cannot afford to get tested, while those that do have the ability to meet high testing costs now have more access to at-home antigen tests, which aren’t included in official case counts. One question that looms is: How big of an increase in cases might Filipinos see in the net few weeks?
  • But there’s a better question to ask: What are government, business owners, and people going to do about it? We’ve been here several times before as more formidable forms of the virus emerge. So what will be done to break the cycle of case increase-surge-heightened restrictions-lowering of restrictions? In other words, how do we live with COVID-19, a virus that will stay with us forever? 
  • For starters, experts have raised proposals time and again: increase uptake of boosters, ensure equitable access to treatments, improve ventilation at home and in public spaces, and create a network of primary care facilities. These are suggestions experts have raised since 2021. 
    • Rappler previously spoke with dozens of experts, who shared their recommendations in this checklist – many of which still apply. 
  • By these alone, the country has much to catch up on. And until measures are taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it won’t be surprising if the public will feel like the country is stuck in the same spiral of reaction. 
70 million Filipinos vaccinated. Now what?

The Duterte government recently hailed the vaccination of 70 million Filipinos as its “legacy” before leaving office at noon on June 30. While it is no small feat for a country that could not provide enough vaccines for all who were eligible over a year ago, the target is old. 

  • In the context of Omicron, it’s more important than ever for Filipinos to be up to date with their vaccination, which means it’s not only the first and second doses that matter, but a booster too. 
    • Booster uptake is significantly lower, with only 14.7 million Filipinos having gotten an additional dose. Among health workers alone, nearly half of the roughly 3 million in the group are boosted. 
  • The number of elderly citizens or those aged 60 and over has hardly moved in months with 6.7 million of an estimated 8 million covered with two doses.
    • In past months, the government said it would set as its target 80% of individuals in the group to account for “hesitancy,” but clarified doing so wouldn’t lead to complacency in increasing vaccination. Experts have reiterated protecting the elderly is one of the most efficient ways to use vaccines and prevent deaths. 
  • Public health research firm EpiMetrics earlier reported that with current variants circulating and the existing efficacy of vaccines against preventing infection, herd immunity is out of reach. Instead, to protect each person, 100% of the population will need to be vaccinated. 
Vaccines for little kids are here

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have endorsed coronavirus vaccines for children as young as six months old, paving the way for millions of more children to be protect against COVID-19. 

  • Moderna’s two-dose vaccine and Pfizer’s three-dose vaccine received the green light, after the FDA and CDC voted to recommend authorization for the shots, saying their benefits would outweigh any risks for kids in the group. 
  • A quick recap on how the two vaccines differ, summarized by the New York Times:
    • Moderna: Two doses given four weeks apart, with preliminary data suggesting its shots were “51% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infection among children aged 6 months through 1 year, and that two shots were 37%  effective at preventing infection among kids aged 2 through 5 years.”
    • Pfizer: Three doses with the first two doses given 21 days apart, and the third  at least two months after the second shot. The third shot is not considered a booster. “Pfizer claimed that its three-dose series had an efficacy of 80% at preventing COVID-19 infection among kids aged 6 months through 4 years old, but that estimate was based on infections in just three children,” the Times said. 
    • Experts say it is likely Moderna will later on include a third shot as part of its primary series. On Pfizer’s shot, STAT News reported that advisers raised questions about the small sample sizes, “arguing the vaccine was safe and effective but that they needed to manage parental expectations about how much protection it really offers – and how important it is that children come back for a third dose.”
    • But others also cautioned against focusing too much on efficacy figures when “antibody levels from both trials suggest that young children develop the same levels of immunity that have protected adults against severe disease during Omicron. And the side effect data shows the vaccine is safe.”
    • “We talk a lot about the data, and we may lose the notion that we’re saving children’s lives,” said Sarah Long, a professor of pediatrics at Drexel University College of Medicine and a CDC committee member. 
  • In the Philippines, outgoing vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said the government wanted to vaccinate children at least six months old this year. With different formulations and dosage schedules, the government will need to buy additional supply for kids at least six months old to six years old. The incoming Marcos administration has yet to announce any plans.

– Rappler.com