'Aim higher': Experts suggest raising vaccination target amid Delta variant threat

Published July 29, 2021, 6:38 PM

by Analou de Vera

Workers belonging to the A4 priority group are inoculated with Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccines inside a cinema-turned vaccination hub in a mall on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 (ALI VICOY/MANILA BULLETIN)

The target number of people who have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) must be raised amid the threat of the more transmissible Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, said members of the country’s Vaccine Experts Panel of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

“We need to aim higher and do it faster. So yung dati nating 60, 70 percent— baka 85 or 90 percent na iyan because of this Delta variant (So, if the target is at least 60 to 70 percent, it could be 85 to 90 percent because of this Delta variant),” said VEP head Dr. Nina Gloriani on Thursday, July 29.

The government is aiming to inoculate 70 percent of the country’s eligible population by year-end to achieve herd immunity.

The target of vaccinating 70 percent of the population is not enough given the concerns associated with the Delta variant, said infectious disease expert Dr. Rontgene Solante.

“We do have a variant that is highly transmissible…You need to vaccinate everyone more than that because we want to prevent symptomatic infection. Symptomatic meaning regardless of severity,” said Solante.

“So, for us to get a better immunity at the population level, siguro taasan natin yung target natin in a scenario na meron na tayong (we could raise the target in a scenario that we already have the) Delta variant,” he added.

Priority groups

At present, the priority of the COVID-19 immunization drive are those under the A group, said DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.

Those under the A priority group include workers in frontline health services, senior citizens, persons with comorbidities, frontline personnel in essential sectors, including uniformed personnel; and indigent population.

Vergeire said that opening up the vaccination of those under the B and C priority groups must be discussed first by the members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).

“In going to other sectors, that will still need discussions in the IATF-EID if we are headed in that direction,” she said in a separate briefing.

“The main purpose of vaccination is to reduce morbidity and mortality. To achieve that, there must be utmost priorities given to senior citizens and those with comorbidities,” she added.

During the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday night, July 28, President Duterte said the vaccines must be given “to the people who want it.”

Booster shots

Meanwhile, the VEP is still studying if they would recommend using a COVID-19 booster shot.

If ever this will be implemented, booster shots will be given to selected individuals only, particularly the senior citizens and those with comorbidities.

“We are looking at that possibility especially in lieu of the reports of waning immunity—but we are looking more on special populations,” said Gloriani.

“Tinitingnan namin…kung meron mang kailangan ng booster, doon natin ibibigay sa mga special population na medyo mababa na ang antibody response nila sa mga bakuna (We are still looking at this … if there is a need for a booster, we will give it to special populations whose antibody response to vaccines is relatively low). Those with HIV, cancer patients, elderly–60 years old and above, and those who are taking immunosuppressive drugs, post transplants, and (those with) chronic kidney diseases,” said Solante.

“So these are the possible populations that the VEP will hopefully recommend kung kailangan natin ng (if we need) booster (shots) over the general population,” added Solante.