No herd immunity until 2033 at current pace of COVID-19 vaccination — senator

No herd immunity until 2033 at current pace of COVID-19 vaccination â senator
Quezon City Police District Station 10 conducts a quarantine checkpoint along Kalayaan Avenue in Quezon City on Friday, March 12, 2021.
The STAR / Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Friday urged the government to speed up its COVID-19 vaccination program, warning that it would take the country almost 12 years to reach herd immunity if nothing changes.

Latest data from the Department of Health shows that 114,615 or 11.2% of the people on its master list have been vaccinated since the country belatedly kicked off its inoculation program this month. 

"At the rate of about 4,000 a day, assuming that the vaccination is not accelerated and assuming we will have the vaccines for the 70-million targeted population for herd immunity, we might not achieve herd immunity until 2033 at the rate we’re doing it now," Lacson said in an interview with CNN Philippines' "The Source."

"It will take us 11 years and eight months to finish assuming that all 140 plus million doses will arrive," he added partially in Filipino. "But if we accelerate, and I hope the government will accelerate the vaccination rollout, then maybe we can advance our timetable." 

DOH: Vaccination program just getting started

In response to Lacson's comments, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire emphasized that the country has only just begun administering the life-saving jabs. She added that, for now, the DOH is focused on reducing "morbidity, mortality and [easing] the burden of heath system."

"We need to think that herd immunity is the long term goal of the country," she said during a press briefing held later Friday, while also acknowledging partially in Filipino that it "should come in as fast as [possible] to end the transmission of the virus."

Vergeire owned that the rate of vaccination was low in the first three days of March but said the department was hopeful that it will pick up in the coming days. The undersecretary added that the distribution of AstraZeneca vaccines to the regions is still ongoing.

The slow rate of vaccination "has been noted by [Health Secretary Francisco Duque III] and we have spoken to our regional directors to make our vaccination even faster," she added in a mix of English and Filipino.

Why does this matter?

Lacson has cautioned the government against complacency, previously taking to Twitter to criticize Malacañang's claim that its pandemic response has been "excellent" thus far.

"If that's their attitude and they already rated themselves as doing an excellent job, they won't improve because they think it's over," he said partially in Filipino on Friday. "So we have a problem if they actually believe it."

As it is, the country's pandemic response is not looking excellent.

March has been marked by a disturbing return to the earlier days of the lockdown, with local governments reinstating curfews and police reviving checkpoints as well as heightened visibility against the backdrop of record-high new infections.

The government also brought back an old talking point, insisting that the consistent and dramatic rise in cases is a result of poor compliance with health protocol despite the presence of two more infectious variants of the virus in the country.

It has also held out on declaring a second surge in cases even as the DOH on Friday recorded the highest number of new infections since mid-September, with 4,578 more entries bringing the national caseload to 611,618.  

— Bella Perez-Rubio with a report from Gaea Katreena Cabico 





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