January 26, 2021 (6:33 PM)

7 min read


VACCINE PRIORITY. Frontline health workers, senior citizens, and the indigent to be prioritized for the initial vaccination against COVID-19, as they are more susceptible and risk to the exposure of the disease. Photo shows the simulation of vaccination enactment. Photo taken from Rappler, Lisa Marie David/Reuters

Over 24 million Filipinos composed of frontline health workers, senior citizens, and the indigent will be prioritized for the initial vaccination against COVID-19, while students are the least priority, according to health officials.

Students are in the 12th priority, excluded in the initial vaccination, according to a presentation by the Department of Health (DOH) Bureau of International Health Cooperation’s Dr. Aleli Annie Sudiacal at a hearing in November last year.

1,514,478 frontline health workers both in the private and public sector are the top priority as they are the most at risk due to exposure and provide the critical and essential services, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said at a webinar Thursday.

Indigent senior citizens (SCs) are the second totalling 3,789,874, while the remaining populations of SCs are the third at 5,678,544.

The fourth priority is the remaining indigent population numbering 12,911,193.

514,133 uniformed personnels, including members of the police, the military, and the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU), comprise the fifth priority group.

Also in the least priority, from sixth to eleventh, respectively, are: teachers and school workers; all government workers; essential workers in agriculture, food industry, transportation, and tourism; groups at higher risk than SCs, persons deprived of liberty, persons with disabilities, and those living in high-density areas; overseas Filipino workers (OFW), and other remaining workforce.

Photos taken from the Department of Health, Philippines

Targeting 22.9 percent of the Filipino population, estimated to be 106,651,394, it is yet unknown if inoculating the prioritized groups would be enough to achieve ‘herd immunity’, and would keep vulnerable groups who cannot be vaccinated safe and protected from the disease.

“The proportion of the population that must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to begin inducing herd immunity is not known. This is an important area of research and will likely vary according to the community, the vaccine, the populations prioritized for vaccination, and other factors,” World Health Organization (WHO) posted on its website.

No need to test to get vaccinated

Vergeire said that according to WHO, testing is no longer needed and not recommended prior to vaccination, and that those who previously contracted COVID-19 would still be vaccinated.

“Kung ikaw ay nagka-COVID na dati and it is in the recent six months for example so magbibilang lang po tayo towards the end of period of this six months at saka kayo puwede bakunahan. Kung meron kayong active disease like symptoms ipagpapaliban lang po natin and then bibigyan din po kayo pero hindi po natin kailangan magpatest para malaman kung tayo ay puwede magpabakuna o hindi,” she said.

She reiterated people cannot choose the brand of the vaccine, first announced by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque which drew flak recently as he said those who refuse to be vaccinated but are part of the priority group will have to sign a waiver indicating their refusal.

However, Local Government Units (LGUs) are allowed to procure vaccines and pick the brand, but they still need to comply with government protocols following a tripartite deal with the national government and manufacturers.

Vergeire said most LGUs are obtaining the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Davao City formally signed a contract last January 11 with AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals Inc., which committed to deliver initial doses of its vaccines to the city by the third quarter of 2021.

Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio said Dabawenyos will not be forced to be vaccinated.

Strains, variants

A new and more infectious variant of the SARS-Cov-2, the N501Y strain, currently has seventeen cases in the country. It first emerged in the United Kingdom, and first reported in the Philippines on January 13.

There is as yet no evidence that shows it increases the severity of the disease, said Dr. Marc Edsel Ayes, Laboratory Manager of UP – Philippine Genome Center, it can, however, cause recurrent outbreaks.

Another emerging strain, E484K, seen in South African and Brazilian variants but not yet in the country, exhibits “escape mutation”, which means it can avoid neutralization from antibodies.

“This one’s quite concerning […] But we’re not sure yet what the implication of this is in vaccines,” Ayes said in a webinar Friday.

The D614G strain is currently the predominant variant of the COVID-19- causing virus.

“The more mutations you get, the more that you start changing the appearance due to different mutations, the more you start to wonder if your antibodies that are formed from vaccines that were developed for the current strains will be effective. That is a reasonable cause for concern,” he said.

‘Race against time’

Ayes warned that variants are not just “imported” it could also be “homegrown”.

“I am not trying to scare anyone, but that’s why this is sort of a race against time because as the virus is allowed to continue to proliferate in the environment we can expect more and more mutations to occur, so as these mutations occur and as more antigen drift occurs, there is the chance that our current vaccines might not be as effective,” he said.

“By giving the vaccine now and hopefully curbing the infections we can minimize the chances that further mutations can occur and therefore ensure the efficacy of our vaccines moving forward,” he added.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) through Executive Order 121 may issue Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for vaccines under specified conditions: effectivity based on evidence, proven benefits that outweigh risks, and compliance with good manufacturing practices, among others.

EUA is valid only during the emergency due to COVID-19 and may be revoked.

So far, only Pfizer has secured an EUA for its vaccines in the Philippines.

WHO recommends the older population and those with comorbidities be vaccinated to avoid risks. Those over 85 are also advised to be inoculated as the benefits outweigh the risks. Children are not recommended until trials will show that the vaccines are also safe and effective for them.

The pregnant, persons living with uncontrolled HIVs, and the immunocompromised will undergo a benefit-risk assessment prior vaccination.

Photos taken from the Department of Health, Philippines

“We cannot put down our guard,” said Dr. Jaime Montoya, Executive Director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development of Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCHRD), in a recorded message at a webinar on Friday.

“We still have to continue to maintain and practice the minimum public health standards that we have already been accustomed to,” he added.

“[Vaccine] is only one of the ways by which we’ll be able to solve the COVID-19 problem,” he concluded.

The Institute of Philippine Culture (IPC) of Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU), DOH – CALABARZON, and the Center for Health Development of the same region organized the webinar titled ‘Updates on COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements and Its Safety’ on Thursday, and the webinar ‘Strains, variants, and mutations: Implication to the COVID Pandemic Response’ was held the day after, by IPC and DOST-PCHRD.

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