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‘Mini surge in BARMM COVID-19 cases possible’

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) is not ruling out the possibility of a “mini surge” in COVID cases in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), where the vaccination coverage remains low.

In a public briefing, DOH Undersecretary and National Vaccination Operations Center head Myrna Cabotaje said the region may see an uptick in cases.

“There is always a possibility of a mini surge. We know the importance of vaccination and we have done everything that we can to improve the vaccination coverage,” she said.

Cabotaje said the ”challenge is big” in BARMM, which has a vaccination rate of only 32.28 percent.

She said the government aims to increase the vaccination coverage in the region to at least 50 percent, but the ultimate goal is 80 percent.

Cabotaje had earlier said religion is not the reason for the low vaccination rate in BARMM, considering that many Muslim countries have high inoculation rates.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the DOH and the United Nations Children’s Fund had a “micro planning” with BARMM officials who requested for special vaccination days.

She said BARMM officials requested that special vaccination days be conducted next month after Ramadan.

“Their commitment, their target is to vaccinate 215,776 people during the special vaccination days,” Vergeire said.

She said BARMM officials have also committed to conduct “social mobilization activities” this month.

“It’s like they are going to prepare the community this April so that in May, people’s participation and the uptake of the vaccine will be high,” Vergeire said.

Vax hubs in mosques

Meanwhile, BARMM’s advisory council Darul Ifta has allowed the setting up of vaccination hubs in mosques to address the low vaccination rate in the region.

In a fatwa or legal opinion signed by its executive director Abu Hurayra Udasan, the advisory council said it is not forbidden for Muslims to be vaccinated against COVID, contrary to the belief of many BARMM residents.

Udasan said the Koran has extensive teachings on the preservation of life, including control of contagious diseases or epidemics.

He said getting vaccinated during Ramadan is also acceptable.

The national pandemic task force has placed BARMM under Alert Level 2 until the end of this month.

Aside from low COVID cases, higher vaccination coverage of the target population, including senior citizens who are among those most vulnerable to the viral illness, are the criteria before an area can be placed under the most lenient Alert Level 1. – John Unson

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