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DOH urged to reform health advisory body

Catherine Talavera - The Philippine Star
DOH urged to reform health advisory body
“It would be an opportunity for her to initiate important reforms from within the department, starting with a formal audit of HTAC’s lapses, especially the ones that caused delays in the public health emergency response,” Concepcion said in a statement over the weekend.
BW FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Reforming the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) should be one of the first acts of Department of Health (DOH) officer-in-charge Rosario Vergeire to help accelerate COVID-19 booster vaccinations in the country, according to Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion.

“It would be an opportunity for her to initiate important reforms from within the department, starting with a formal audit of HTAC’s lapses, especially the ones that caused delays in the public health emergency response,” Concepcion said in a statement over the weekend.

The HTAC is a body tasked with providing guidance to the DOH on the coverage of health interventions and technologies to be funded by the government.

Currently, the body has yet to decide whether to allow second booster shots for more Filipinos.

Concepcion said that by acting on bottlenecks, Vergeire would be able to improve pandemic response, especially by making available for second booster shots reformulated vaccines that are resilient to newer variants.

“It cannot be business-as-usual in a life-and-death situation like the COVID pandemic. There is so much riding on this,” he said.

The Go Negosyo founder suggested following the lead of countries that have studied the merits of second boosters, such as the United States, Canada and Australia.

In the US, health officials are planning to allow second COVID-19 boosters for all adults, with the US Food and Drug Administration even expanding the coverage of second boosters.

The province of Ontario in Canada has expanded the eligibility for fourth COVID shots – or a second booster – to cover all adults.

Australia has also expanded access to a second COVID jab to people as young as 30 years old, and recommended it for those 50 years and older.

Concepcion said the inability of the HTAC to act in time would have dire consequences on economic recovery, especially amid rising inflation and worldwide disruptions caused by the protracted conflict between Russia and the Ukraine.

Second booster vaccinations using mRNA vaccines were allowed in the Philippines only in mid-May, two months after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its own guidelines to include even those as young as 50 years old.

At present, the Philippines allows second COVID booster jabs only to seniors 60 years and up, health care workers and immunocompromised persons.

Members of the private sector Advisory Council of Council of Experts (ACE), a group comprising some of the country’s foremost authorities in medicine, public health, economics and research and data analytics, earlier said the usual procedures used for routine vaccines won’t work during a pandemic.

They instead recommended “the use of the weight-of-evidence approach, which takes into consideration things like whole-of-society needs, vaccine deployment challenges at the ground level, age-related issues such as vulnerability versus schools being able to return to normal, the emergence of variants and many other factors.”

Concepcion has been stressing the importance of increasing booster vaccination rates in the country.

“Complacency is really the problem. There is no sense of urgency because people don’t see what might happen if our wall of immunity starts to weaken,” Concepcion said earlier.

He explained that re-infections are quite possible, and that cases of long COVID have grave consequences on productivity and, ultimately, the economy.

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