Concepcion raps HTAC for 'delaying' PH economic recovery

Published June 27, 2022, 4:02 PM

by Argyll Cyrus Geducos

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Jose ‘Joey’ Concepcion III criticized the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) as it continues to drag its feet on what he described as the “life-or-death” issue of Covid-19 vaccines.

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion speaks during the Laging Handa public briefing on Monday, May 23. (Screenshot from PCOO Facebook page)

Concepcion said this after the HTAC ruled that giving Covid-19 booster shots for non-immunocompromised 12- to 17-year-olds could continue only when the adult population has reached 40 to 70 percent booster coverage, prompting the postponement of vaccinations for this group that would have rolled out last June 25.

In a public briefing, the Go Negosyo founder said allowing non-boostered children to return to in-person classes in August would expose those who have waning immunity to possible infection.

“If these kids get sick, their parents will have to stay home and take care of them, and we will have one less productive person helping our economy recover. This is not counting the additional financial burden on their already-strained household budgets,” he said.

According to Concepcion, the delay of the booster shot rollout would have “dire consequences” for the country’s recovery.

“When you delay these boosters, you deny our country the chance to recover. They are clearly not seeing the big picture here,” he said.

The Advisory Council of Experts (ACE) agreed that “vaccine boosters delayed is prosperity denied.”

The ACE is an experts panel composed of the country’s foremost authorities on medicine, public health, economics, and research and data analytics, who guide the private sector on public health and the economy.

According to the group, the country should not wait for “hard evidence that we use for routine vaccines.”

“We use the weight-of-evidence approach, which considers 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,” it said.

The group further stated that the National Vaccination Operations Center has been working hard to increase immunization coverage across the country, but that it cannot be helped that there will be remaining hesitancy and some slack in progress in reaching its goals or targets.

“We must start with others who clearly could benefit from it, especially since we have sufficient supplies, some or many even expiring,” it added.

Concepcion also criticized the HTAC for being “slow.”

“These are not normal times. We are still in the middle of the pandemic. Why is the HTAC acting as if there is no urgency? Why is it using reasoning that is applied only with routine vaccines?” he wondered.

Concepcion has been appealing to the HTAC to allow those as young as 50 to receive second booster vaccines. Only healthcare workers, the elderly, and immunocompromised are currently entitled to receive second boosters.

The private sector and LGUs have wanted to administer these vaccines to productive workforce members, some of whom are already in their 50s. It has been reported that millions of Covid vaccines remain in storage, with many nearing their expiry dates, under threat of adding to the already expired stock.

Concepcion added that the HTAC’s inability to act decisively and within reason is burdening the Department of Health (DOH) and reflecting poorly on the country’s vaccination efforts.

Moving forward, Concepcion has recommended that the task of rolling out vaccines should be given to the Vaccine Expert Panel and relegate non-critical tasks to the HTAC.

“No one body, and certainly not a seemingly faceless council, should have that much power over our country’s future,” he said.