DOH: Omicron-specific vax in Philippines next year

Mayen Jaymalin - The Philippine Star
DOH: Omicron-specific vax in Philippines next year
Following up the AstraZeneca vaccine with an mRNA dose enhances protection.
Mujid Majnun via Unsplash

MANILA, Philippines — New Omicron-specific vaccines may become available in the country beginning early next year, the Department of Health (DOH) said yesterday.

“In terms of the new vaccines that are being developed, the manufacturer declared that around October, they could release this kind of vaccine,” DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire, speaking partly in Filipino, said in a radio interview.

It is only then that the vaccine manufacturer could initiate the process of applying for its use in the Philippines, Vergeire said.

“We will be reviewing that and, the way I see it with the processes we have, (it would be available) about early part of next year,” she said, adding that a budget has already been reserved to purchase these new vaccines.

This week, the United Kingdom became the first country to approve an Omicron-specific vaccine developed by Moderna.

In a related development, Vergeire announced that Janssen Pharmaceuticals has applied for commercial distribution of its COVID-19 vaccines in the country.

“Once a vaccine has a CPR (certificate of product registration), it can already be available commercially,” explained Vergeire of Janssen’s application now under evaluation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

She said the CPR may be granted to Janssen early next year, given that it satisfies all the requirements of the FDA.

“In order to be available to the population, careful study is needed,” she stressed in Filipino.

Faster procurement

With the planned extension of the country’s public health emergency status, infectious disease specialist Dr. Rontgene Solante sees a faster procurement of the new Omicron-specific bivalent vaccine.

Speaking at the Laging Handa public briefing yesterday, Solante welcomed President Marcos’ announcement that he is inclined to retain the state of public health emergency until the end of the year.

“It is very important to extend the public health emergency status, because we can see a lot of advantages if we are in a public health emergency,” he said in Filipino and English.

One of the advantages, Solante said, is for faster and easier procurement of the bivalent vaccine in order to stop the spread of the Omicron virus in the country.

“At this point, we need immediate supply of the vaccine, especially (since) we are now in our second booster for the vulnerable population and waiting for the Omicron booster to arrive in the Philippines much faster,” he said.

Although the first-generation COVID-19 vaccines are still effective against the virus, use of the Omicron-specific vaccine is an important step in the fight against the global pandemic, stressed Solante.

He noted that numerous cases of breakthrough infections and recurrent re-infections are being recorded because the protection provided by the first-generation vaccines has dropped with the emergence of new variants of concern (VOC).

The Omicron-specific vaccine – as preliminary studies show – will increase the protection against severe disease, particularly among the most vulnerable population, the expert said.

“I am still confident that with this Omicron variant booster it may still have good cross-protection with the other VOC. But for new variants (that) will occur, that’s a big question mark,” Solante said.

However, he expressed hope that the bivalent vaccine will put an end to further mutations of the Omicron variant.

With school opening next week, it is important for the people, especially the teachers, to get vaccinated and to strictly comply with public health standards, said Solante.

He also pushed for the government to provide boosters for children under 12 years to increase the wall of immunity in the country.

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