WHO official urges PH to intensify COVID-19 vaccination for seniors, people with comorbidities; prepare more oxygen supplies amid Delta variant threat

Published August 3, 2021, 3:15 PM

by Analou de Vera

World Health Organization Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe (PCOO / MANILA BULLETIN)

An official of the World Health Organization (WHO) urged the Philippines to prioritize the vaccination of the elderly population and those with comorbidities against COVID-19 to avoid hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.

WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said that by prioritizing senior citizens and persons with comorbidities in the COVID-19 immunization drive, “we are going to reduce the number of severe and complicated cases.”

“I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the importance of strategically focusing the vaccines on the elderly and the comorbid. Because, we have clearly seen that countries that did this, even though there is an increase in the number of cases—the hospital system were able to cope,” said Abeyasinghe in a televised briefing on Tuesday, August 3.

“Oftentimes the infection in younger people does not require hospitalization or intensive care support. So the hospital systems and the healthcare workers can manage the outbreak,” he added.

“We still need to keep the focus on vaccinating and comorbid populations so that when the increase in transmission happens, we are able to prevent the overwhelming of hospital care capacities,” he furthered.

Oxygen supply

Abeyasinghe said that there is also a need to increase the country’s oxygen supply amid the concerns on the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.

“In preparation for this, we need to see how we can mobilize additional oxygen sources. We’ve seen that the Delta variant has caused significant demand in many countries, initially India, Indonesia, Myanmar. We see that hospitals are running short of oxygen supplies,” he said.

“It is now time for us to prepare for this situation in anticipation—- as we do everything to try to reduce the numbers,” he added.

When asked if the WHO has already observed a community transmission of the Delta variant in the Philippines, Abeyasinghe said: “it is not important whether there is community transmission or whether there is not.”

“It is not important whether there is a surge or an increasing number of cases. We need to recognize that we are facing a risk because of a higher, highly transmissible variant. We need to implement measures now. That is what is most important,” he added.

Abeyasinghe also encouraged the public to do “voluntary enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).”

“It is critically important not to wait for the government to impose the ECQ but if we individually start voluntary ECQ— by reducing our movements by going out only for essential activities, avoiding large scale mass gatherings… we are able to reduce transmission because we know that these measures work,” he said.

The WHO official also emphasized testing, isolation, and the minimum public health standards to break the chain of transmission.