IATF discusses vaccination of students this week – CHED

Janvic Mateo - The Philippine Star
IATF discusses vaccination of students this week � CHED
At a press briefing yesterday, De Vera noted that other countries are reviewing their policies and thinking of prioritizing vaccination of students to enable them to take part in face-to-face classes.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) will discuss the possibility of including students and children in the vaccine priority list, according to Commission on Higher Education (CHED) chairman J. Prospero de Vera III.

At a press briefing yesterday, De Vera noted that other countries are reviewing their policies and thinking of prioritizing vaccination of students to enable them to take part in face-to-face classes.

“Also, this is a recognition especially for younger students – they are observing in other countries that the mental health of students is really getting affected and they’d like the students to be going out of their homes more frequently. And the answer in other countries is to vaccinate them,” De Vera said.

“That will be discussed in the IATF, whether that is a policy that we could also have in the Philippines. Hopefully, that will be taken up in the IATF this week,” he added.

Most COVID vaccines with emergency use authorization (EUA) in the country may only be used for individuals aged 18 and above.

Only the vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech is allowed for younger members of the population, specifically those aged 16 and above.

Earlier this month, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revised its EUA for Pfizer-BioNTech to include those between 12 to 15 as eligible to receive the vaccine.

The Philippine FDA has not issued a similar advisory.

Filipino students, even those who are already adults, are not specifically identified in the latest vaccine priority list approved by the IATF.

Frontliners in the education sector, meanwhile, have been upgraded to the A4 priority list from the previous B1.

De Vera yesterday led the ceremonial vaccination of education frontliners at the Universidad de Manila.

“Our message there is we hope that other local government units would follow the lead of Manila and start vaccinating their education frontliners in preparation for the closing of the school year and also eventually the opening of the next school year,” he said.

Only those belonging to the A1 to A3 priority are currently allowed to be vaccinated, except in ceremonial vaccinations where select members of the population belonging to A4 category have received their vaccines.

Face-to-face classes

On expanding the number of programs allowed to conduct face-to-face classes, De Vera said they would first assess the data from those that have been allowed in the previous months.

“We have to get data if the students are really safe, if there is no infection, there is no transmission,” he said.

“The next batch most probably is engineering, information technology, industrial technology and maritime because these are the degree programs with a lot of hands-on activities that cannot be delivered virtually. But all of that is contingent on the safety of students in the first batch,” he added.

CHED has allowed over 60 higher education institutions offering medical and allied health programs to conduct limited face-to-face classes.

De Vera said initial data showed there was zero transmission in the first two months of the limited face-to-face classes at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine and the first month at the Our Lady of Fatima University.

“If this holds true in the more than 60 universities that have been allowed to hold limited face-to-face classes, then the commission en banc will study and recommend what is the next batch,” he added.

Follow vaccination schedule

The Department of Health (DOH) advised the public to follow the vaccination schedule and avoid flocking to vaccination sites.

Those wanting to get vaccinated must first register with their local government unit, according to DOH-National Capital Region (NCR) chief Gloria Balboa.

“The vaccination center has vaccination limit per day. Even those without schedule troop to the center, resulting in mass gatherings,” Balboa said during the Laging Handa public briefing yesterday.

The DOH issued the advice after a large number of people flocked to a vaccination site in Manila after getting reports that Pfizer vaccines would given for free.

Balboa said there is a need to improve communication with the public to prevent similar incidents.

She said the public must be informed that there is a process to be followed in the vaccination.

“They should understand that those with schedule are prioritized. They have to wait if they walk-in,” Balboa said.

Supply stability

National Task Force against COVID chief implementer and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. assured the public that the vaccine supply in the country would stabilize in the coming months.

Galvez said the country is set to receive 4.5 million doses of Sinovac vaccine every month from June to August, on top of other brands that will be coming in.

“We will have a steady supply that will be increased by millions in increments. We are happy because vaccines used to arrive in trickles during the months of March and April, but are now in the millions,” Galvez said.

He said, this month alone the vaccine deliveries are estimated at 7.75 million doses. Of the figure, 3.75 million have already been delivered.

Galvez said some 500,000 doses of Sinovac are scheduled to arrive on May 20, on top of the 2.2 million doses of Pfizer and 1.3 million doses of Sputnik V set to arrive this month.

For the month of June, 10 million doses are expected to arrive consisting of 3.3 million AstraZeneca, 4.5 million Sinovac, 250,000 Moderna and two million Sputnik V.

Galvez said he suggested to President Duterte to start the vaccination of workers and indigents by end of May using vaccines from COVAX  to speed up the vaccination program.

“We are suggesting this to you because many in the business sector and the COVAX Facility are recommending it. We need to open it to A4 and A5. We should prioritize the poor,” Galvez told the President.

He said the COVAX Facility wants to ensure that the poor has equitable access to COVID vaccines.

Galvez cited data from the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) showing 12.8 million Filipino workers under the A4 category and 16 million more under the A5 category.

As of this month, over three million Filipinos have been vaccinated, Galvez said in a report to Duterte. Of the figure, over 2.28 million who belong to the A1 and A3 category priority groups have received the vaccines as of May 16, Galvez said.

He said there are 719,602 people who belong to the same vaccination group that have completed the required two doses of the vaccines.

One million Filipinos were inoculated within 17 days this month.

“We are looking forward that by June, we will increase it to one million per week,” Galvez said.

The peak season for inoculation will be in July and August, Galvez said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joel Villanueva urged the IATF to allow more priority groups from A4 to be vaccinated.

Villanueva, chair of the committee on labor and employment, said the IATF could expand the allowed categories to A5 – indigent and working poor population – and B1, who include teachers and social workers.

“The vaccines have ‘best before’ dates. The faster they end up in the arms of the people, the better for us all. The rollout will be faster if we start giving them to three more groups in the vaccination priority list,” he said.

He said the government can speed up its vaccination program by opening up more sites to more groups. – Mayen Jaymalin, Jose Rodel Clapano, Paolo Romero, Emmanuel Tupas

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