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Gov’t hikes vaccine target

Our target is really at least 75 to 80 percent to see herd immunity and prevent our people from getting the disease.

Gabbie Parlade

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SAO Paolo Governor Joao Doria holds a package of an anti-coronavirus vaccine that is part of the first shipment from China pharmaceutical firm Sinovac to Brazil. / NELSON ALMEIDA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The government has raised its immunization target to 75 to 80 percent of the population to acquire herd immunity, planners involved in acquiring the doses said on Monday.

Retired General Carlito Galvez Jr., COVID-19 National Chief Implementer and Vaccine Czar, on Monday said the government is also eyeing to conduct a more aggressive negotiation on vaccine procurement with different international pharmaceutical firms following President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to have all Filipinos inoculated.

Galvez and the Department of Health last week announced the government’s initiative to immunize 60 percent of the population. But the numbers quickly changed as the development of anti-COVID vaccines has gained momentum.

“Our target is really at least 75 to 80 percent to see herd immunity and prevent our people from getting the disease,” he said in an interview.

Galvez said talks are ongoing on top of setting up of the initial COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility which assures 20 million doses for the Philippines.

The World Health Organization said herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it. Vaccines train people’s immune systems to create proteins that fight disease, known as “antibodies.”

Former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, however, warned that despite this development, the government should avoid giving the public false hopes as the virus will not easily go away even with a vaccine in sight.

She suggested that the government engage the people in a large-scale information drive to make them understand what the vaccine can do and why it is important to have them administered with it.

“It’s a matter of really communicating to the public that the vaccination will not remove COVID-19. It will slow its transmission but will not remove it altogether,” she said, noting that this is similar to what is being experienced with polio cases.

Although she disclosed that it is possible to completely eradicate the disease but only with caution observed by a majority of the people, and only when all the people have been vaccinated.

“Don’t give people false hope that if you start vaccinating with COVID-19 vaccine that COVID-19 will disappear. It’s still important to have the minimum protocols like wearing masks, wearing face shields and social distancing,” she added.

Nonetheless, Ubial said that areas with high transmission of COVID-19 cases as well as certain groups from the vulnerable sector should be prioritized to immediately see the effects of the vaccine.

“We know there are high prevalence areas, high transmission areas and therefore, to have an effect you have to concentrate your vaccination in these areas, and not spread it evenly throughout the population,” she said.

This week, Galvez disclosed that they will be in discussion with more firms, including one coming from India and the United States aside from the initial agreements made with British firm AstraZeneca.

To date, vaccines by Chinese firms Clover Pharmaceuticals and Sinovac Biotech are the first to pass review by the vaccine expert panel with a foreseen date of trial by end-December to early January depending on the length of processing of their applications.

As earlier announced, the government’s goal is to acquire at least 20 million doses per approved vaccine manufacturer to complete the target number of doses to immunize at least 60 million Filipinos by 2021-2022.

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