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Roque Says Booster Shots OK’d For HCWs; DOH Denies

Roque Says Booster Shots OK’d For HCWs; DOH Denies
A health worker attends to a patient in the Rosario Maclang Bautista General Hospital grounds in Quezon City on Aug. 29, 2021. Medical facilities are reaching their full capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Michael Varcas, The Philippine STAR

The government’s vaccine advisory group has approved the giving of COVID-19 booster shots to health care workers, Malacañang said on Monday, Sept. 13.

“I heard that the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG), composed of our vaccine experts, has decided in favor of the giving of booster shots to our health workers,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

The Duterte administration has allocated P45.37 billion for COVID-19 booster shots in the proposed national budget for next year.

However, the Department of Health (DOH) clarified there is “no approval” from NITAG and the All Expert Group (AEG) yet on the recommendation to give booster shots to medical frontliners directly handling COVID-19 patients.

“The AEG, together with the DOH, is still carefully deliberating this. There is no final recommendation yet from the experts, nor approval from the DOH on the administration of booster shots,” DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS) and the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines (PIDSP) said children with comorbidities in high-risk areas could be included in the vaccination rollout, but the adult and more vulnerable age groups should be prioritized.

Once “sufficient” percentage of the target priority groups has completed their inoculation, “children above 12 years old may be considered for vaccination.”

Earlier, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for those aged 12 to 17 years old.

Vaccine passports

National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) director general Karl Kendrick Chua has asked the Senate to pass Senate Bill No. 2381 or the Vaccine Passport Program Act that mandates the distribution of vaccine passports.

During the Senate committee on finance hearing, Chua said the vaccine passport “would be a very useful tool to keep track of every person’s health” and could also be linked with the national ID.

The NEDA chief, however, said mandating vaccine passports may require the national and local governments to intensify their coordination on the immunization data of Filipinos.

Under SB 2381, individuals holding vaccine passports may go on non-essential domestic travel with checkpoint exemptions and international trips with reduced quarantine time.

Sen. Pia Cayetano, who presided over the committee hearing, said several countries have implemented their vaccine passport/card/certificate programs to facilitate safer trans-border travel, given that international and, in some instances, local travel remain highly restrictive.

A representative of the League of Cities in the Philippines (LCP) said the league has no objection to this but she raised the issue of inadequate supply of vaccines in local government units.

For her part, Sen. Grace Poe said her SB 3321 seeks to expand the objectives of the vaccine cards, noting that while the measure does not mandate people to get vaccinated, it encourages them to do so.

More jabs arrive

Another two million doses of China-made Sinovac vaccines procured by the national government arrived yesterday at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 2 aboard Philippine Airlines flight PR 361 from Beijing, China.

The Sinovac doses in 56 pallets were immediately transported to the PharmaServ Express cold storage in Marikina City upon arrival.

National Task Force against COVID-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said the country also received 1.5 million doses of Sinovac last Friday. In total, the Philippines has now received 33 million Sinovac doses, of which 31,100,000 doses were bought by government.

Galvez said the latest Sinovac shipment will be deployed to regions considered as high risk. –  With Sheila Crisostomo, Elijah Felice Rosales, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Rudy Santos, Jose Rodel Clapano