MANILA, Philippines — The Department of the Interior and Local Government directed local government units to proactively seek the unvaccinated and those individuals eligible for COVID-19 booster shots following the detection of the Omicron BA.4 subvariant in the Philippines.
In a statement sent to reporters, DILG Secretary Eduardo Año said BA.4 poses a threat to public health as it can evade immune protection from vaccination and prior infection.
He urged local chief executives to "scour their jurisdiction" to urge those still unvaccinated and booster-eligible population to get vaccinated “as a precautionary measure versus a more transmissible Omicron variant and possible community transmission.”
“We direct all LGUs to be proactive in its vaccination efforts and seek these people who are eligible for inoculation. The Department of Health’s detection of BA.4 signals the need for a more aggressive action to ensure that the people are vaccinated and protected against this highly contagious variant of COVID-19,” Año said.
According to the DOH, it detected the subvariant from a Filipino citizen who flew from the Middle East on May 4, 2022. The patient was confirmed positive with the more transmissible variant from a specimen collected on May 8, 2022. He was asymptomatic.
The DOH has also said that the new sub-variant is likely to be more transmissible, but its presence will not necessarily translate to a new wave in cases because of the number of vaccinated individuals in the country. It added that there is still no evidence suggesting that BA.2.12.1 causes more severe disease.
The DILG earlier took an aggressive stance against the unvaccinated by urging local governments to pass ordinances banning the unvaccinated from entering malls, establishments, and public transportation in their localities.
In January, Interior Undersecretary for Barangay Affairs Martin Diño added that barangays will face penalties for not listing those who have not been vaccinated in their area, as he justified the overall thrust as the government’s effort to protect the public.
'Knock on every house'
Año said that despite the transition of power to the newly-elected officials, LGUs must be ready to mobilize all their resources to identify citizens who are eligible for vaccination and booster shots in the face of the Omicron subvariant.
He said BA.4’s ability for faster transmission must be countered by improved vaccination turnout, especially for people who are immunocompromised and vulnerable to possible transmission.
He also underscored that even the vaccinated must be urged to get booster shots as the said variant can evade COVID-19 vaccination especially if its efficacy waned over time.
“Local governments have to persevere. Millions of Filipinos have been vaccinated months ago and that can work against our goal of protecting our people because this BA.4 can get through the vaccine especially if it has been vaccinated for a long time,” Año said in Filipino.
"If we have to knock on every house to find out who should be vaccinated, that's what we will do," he added.
The DOH said in its statement that “while the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has not observed any severity in BA.4, faster transmission will lead to a spike in cases that could overwhelm our hospitals and clinics.”
The DILG chief said LGUs must tap its established pandemic health units such as the Local COVID-19 Task Forces and the Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs) to aid the efforts of vaccinating more individuals “avoiding spike of cases which can be detrimental to our health system.”
He directed LGUs to create LCTFs during the onset of the pandemic in 2020 to enable them to monitor and analyze COVID-19 data and to better address the issues and concerns of their constituents during the coronavirus health crisis.
LGUs were likewise directed to activate their BHERTs in 2020 to conduct visits in the homes of individuals possibly inflicted with COVID-19; initiate contact-tracing; and, report, on a daily basis, the condition of prospective and confirmed COVID-19 cases, among others.
“The LGUs have the existing tools to help them in identifying their constituents who must be vaccinated. We hope that they take advantage of this so more can get vaccinated,” Año said.
Compliance with public health standards urged
DILG spokesperson Jonathan Malaya encouraged citizens to commit themselves to the vaccination program whether it is their first time or they are eligible for booster shots.
“We can help a lot in the fight against this more contagious Omicron variant if we get vaccinated. We are not only protecting ourselves but are also contributing to the overall welfare of our nation,” Malaya said.
He also reminded the public to continue adhering to minimum public health standards “as these have greatly contributed to the recent decrease of COVID-19 cases in the country.”
“Let's be patient in following the MPHS especially when we are in a public place. We have seen how compliance to the MPHS, together with our vaccination program, led us to the downgraded Alert level in the country. We hope we can sustain this,” he added.
The DILG Spox likewise urged barangay volunteers to work with the LGUs in identifying citizens eligible for vaccination imploring them to enliven the ‘bayanihan spirit’ to counter the spread of Omicron BA.4 variant.
According to the ECDC the presence of Omicron BA.4 together with BA.5 could cause a significant overall increase in COVID-19 cases in the European Union in the coming weeks and months