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Government Not Acquiring More Bivalent Vaccines

Government Not Acquiring More Bivalent Vaccines
A healthcare worker receives a Pfizer bivalent vaccine for COVID-19 during the vaccine rollout in San Juan on June 22, 2023. Photo by Michael Varcas, The Philippine STAR

The Philippines has no plans of acquiring more COVID bivalent vaccines as it was found to increase antibodies for old strains of the virus, Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa said on Tuesday, Oct. 25.

During a Palace briefing, Herbosa said the country has consumed all 390,000 bivalent vaccines that came from the Lithuanian government in June.

“Apparently, what was discovered was the bivalent is not as effective, because it increases your antibodies to the original, not the later ones. So, it’s like 70 percent of the antibodies triggered or still the older ones,” Herbosa said.

“In that case, it doesn’t really protect you from the newer variant,” he added.

Herbosa said the US pharmaceutical company Moderna has released a new monovalent COVID shot targeting the XBB Omicron strain.

“They changed again their formula and created monovalent XBB. We will still think whether we will need that, depending on our increase in cases,” he said, referring to Moderna.

Herbosa said the Department of Health (DOH) has not recorded an increase in the infection like Singapore, which is experiencing a surge in cases primarily driven by two variants – EG.5 and its sub-lineage HK.3 – both descendants of the XBB Omicron variant.

Herbosa said symptoms are still mild and there were no reported deaths because of new COVID strains.

“We have to watch out for it. We are hoping that the fact that most Filipinos are completely vaccinated against COVID, symptoms will be mild and this new variety is also like upper respiratory mild infection,” he said.

The DOH’s epidemiology bureau has been monitoring the increase of influenza-like illness, Herbosa said.

He said there are some schools that converted to online blended learning because some of the students contracted influenza-like illnesses.

“It’s during the rainy season when respiratory illness increases because we need to close windows, we are in enclosed spaces and people can really get infected,” he said.

Herbosa reminded the public, especially the elderly, to avail themseles of flu shots.

“It’s still flu season, get the flu shot. We have flu shots at the DOH. If you are high risk, especially elderly and senior citizens, get your flu shots,” he said.

“Let’s practice again things we learned during COVID like wearing a face mask if you have cough, colds or respiratory illness,” Herbosa said.

A total of 151,375 influenza-like illnesses have been recorded as of Oct. 13. 

The figure is 45 percent higher than the 104,613 cases reported during the same period last year.

COVID cases 

The DOH said it recorded over 1,100 COVID cases in the past week. 

Based on DOH’s COVID Bulletin released on Tuesday, Oct. 24, there were 1,146 infections from Oct. 16 to 22.

Of the figure, 22 were considered severe and critical while nine fatalities were verified during the period, the DOH said.

The fatalities occurred from Oct. 9 to 22.

The daily average number of new cases is 164, which is eight percent lower than those recorded from Oct. 9 to 15.

On Oct. 22 alone, the health department recorded 221 severe and critical COVID patients who sought hospitalization.    

The figure comprises 8.1 percent of the total admissions recorded nationwide.

Of the 1,465 ICU or intensive care unit beds intended for COVID patients, 173 or 11.8 percent were occupied.

Of the 12,536 non-ICU COVID beds, 2,118 or 16.9 percent are being utilized.

The health department said more than 78 million people or 100.44 percent of the target population have been vaccinated against COVID.

More than 23 million people have received booster shots.       

The DOH said 7.1 million senior citizens or 82.16 percent of the target A2 population have received the primary vaccine series.