Remember COVID?

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

Folks are going back to work in their offices and the EDSA traffic jams are proof we are pretending that the pandemic is over.

I am still taking baby steps. I had an online consultation with my cardiologist before I left for the US last year. It was good to finally see him and my pulmonologist again in person after two years. As for social events, I have only attended three dinners with very few guests over the past month, two of which were in open air venues.

My wife is so happy to finally be able to personally do grocery shopping. She said she often has to lecture people to keep social distance and to follow COVID protocol.

It is certainly a good feeling to no longer have to worry about thousands of new cases daily, but it gives us a wrong sense of security. It is easy to believe we are over this virus.

Not so fast, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns. The epidemic is raging wildly in China and Hong Kong. Shanghai is in lockdown. South Korea is not doing that well. Europe is cautious. And the US is expecting a surge of a new COVID Omicron subvariant BA.2, just as they removed the mandate to wear face masks in indoor public places.

Even here in the Philippines, the WHO warned last week that COVID cases are likely to rise after the May 9 election. Rajendra Yadav, acting WHO representative to the Philippines, urged our officials to be prepared by keeping the mask mandate and ramping up vaccine booster shots.

We are perhaps lucky that during the last surge of cases in January, we got this new BA.2 variant and have better immunity now. The variant belatedly crippled China and is threatening Europe and the US.

But with huge crowds attending election rallies plus the expected waning immunity of the vaccines, particularly for those who have not received their booster shots, a surge of cases may greet the new administration.

WHO’s Yadav urged the DOH to continually recalibrate our COVID response. He recommended house-to-house vaccination, especially for Filipinos not yet vaccinated. But DOH is apparently ignoring it, probably thinking it is too much work when the health secretary is ready to go. The next COVID surge is the problem of the next administration’s health secretary.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III doesn’t even seem to be alarmed that we have 27 million doses of COVID vaccines about to expire in July. At P500 per dose, the government will be throwing away P13.5 billion if the 27 million doses are not administered within the next three months. Duque wants to donate what he calls excess vaccines to Myanmar and Papua New Guinea. But these are not excess vaccines.

More than 34 million eligible Filipinos have not received their booster shots, which should take care of those 27 million “excess” doses. Only 12.15 million booster shots have been administered by DOH.

Some 66.2 million out of 110 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated as of April 4, according to the DOH.

DOH earlier said they were expecting to completely vaccinate 77 million Filipinos by the first quarter of this year, and then 90 million by the second quarter. Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., head of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, said 71.16 million Filipinos are expected to have received booster doses by the third quarter.

Duque’s department justified their cavalier attitude by saying only two percent or 540,000 doses of the 27 million were bought by our government. That’s still worth P270 million, probably peanuts to DOH officials who used to deal in the billions with Pharmally.

Bantay Bakuna, which advocates a comprehensive and transparent rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, said the seven-day average rate was 182,709 per day. This means that if the government continued with this rate, it would take two months to fully vaccinate 77 million and 10 months to fully vaccinate 90 million.

Presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion said “if we don’t use these vaccines, we will have wasted Filipino taxpayers’ money.”

The logical thing for DOH to do is to allow giving the second booster shots to senior citizens and immunocompromised individuals, which the US FDA now allows. What is DOH waiting for before giving the guidelines?

CNN reports that Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said that “current evidence suggests some waning of protection over time against serious outcomes from COVID-19 in older and immunocompromised individuals.

“Based on an analysis of emerging data, a second booster dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine could help increase protection levels for these higher-risk individuals.

“Additionally, the data show that an initial booster dose is critical in helping to protect all adults from the potentially severe outcomes of COVID-19. So, those who have not received their initial booster dose are strongly encouraged to do so.”

The US FDA said in making its decision, it had determined that the known and potential benefits of second boosters outweigh the known and potential risks for these populations.

I guess the problem lies with LGUs being busy with the election campaign, and DOH has been totally dependent on them. That’s when DOH should get creative. Ask hospitals, doctor’s clinics, and drug store chains to help administer the vaccine.

I have personally seen how this is being done in the US. When I was trying to get my booster, I went to the county vaccination center near Denver. They refused to give me my booster because my first two doses were Sinovac. They claim they have no protocol to deal with the unknown brand.

So my wife and I went to Walmart. With no fuss, no wait, we got our Pfizer booster. No red tape. No bureaucratic mumbo jumbo.

If Duque allows those vaccines to expire unused or donated to another country, it will be the ultimate cap to his record of COVID mismanagement.

Remember COVID? It’s still around.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco




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