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Gov’t mulls early booster shots



The government is studying the possibility of shortening the six-month recommended interval of Covid-19 booster shots and second vaccine doses to just three months, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Friday.

Duque said the Department of Health (DoH) will propose the idea to the Philippines’ vaccine expert panel as jab supply becomes stable and amid the threat of the Omicron variant.

“We are looking into it. We will submit into the vaccine expert panel what would be the totality advantage of giving earlier booster shots,” he said in an interview with CNN Philippines.

“Say, instead of six months from the second dose of primary series, what if we did it three months after the second dose? Would that confer a much better, much higher level of protection?” he added.

Duque said the possibility may be studied by experts who will determine if shortening the interval between the second and third jab will mount a higher number of antibodies and better immune response. He did not elaborate on the study’s time frame.

The health chief also noted that there is a growing body of global research which shows that Covid-19 vaccines’ protection against infection, with or without symptoms, has dropped after the six-month mark.

However, the same studies showed that the jabs remain highly protective against the severe infection or hospitalization.

“We are looking at advancing the booster jabs, maybe three months after if the response is truly much higher, in terms of antibody levels,” Duque said.

The Philippines continuously receives a steady supply of Covid-19 shots from manufacturers, which enabled the government this month to roll out booster shots to those who have received their second vaccine doses at least six months ago.

Health workers, the elderly population, and individuals with comorbidities have been prioritized in the booster shot program, as most of them have completed their two-dose vaccination last March and April.

Vaccine supply, as it appears, is not a problem for the government. The Philippines has so far received 154 million Covid-19 shots and more deliveries are expected this year.

Under the current state guidelines, boosters are given at least six months following the second Covid-19 shot of any of the vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Sinovac, Oxford-AstraZeneca, and the Gamaleya Research Institute.

Filipinos who received the single-shot Janssen vaccine, meanwhile, may get their additional doses three months after their shots.

Duque earlier said those who want to secure an additional shot may choose a homologous booster, or the same vaccine brand as their two primary doses, or a heterologous or a different one.


‘Intact’ booster budget

At Malacañang, Cabinet Secretary and acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles expressed optimism that the Congress will approve the proposed P45.3 billion budget for the purchase of anti-coronavirus boosters next year.

“We hope that the P45 billion proposed budget for booster shots will be intact,” Nograles said Wednesday in his regular Palace briefing.

“We await the final version of the 2022 budget that will be approved by the bicameral conference committee,” he added.

The Executive department put the budget under “unprogrammed appropriations,” which means that it will only be funded if the government has enough money.

The earmarked fund is expected to provide one-dose protection to some 83.4 million Filipinos at an estimated cost of P544 per jab next year.

In the Senate version of the 2022 budget, the health department is also given additional funding of P16.245 billion under the Family Health, Immunization, Nutrition and Responsible Parenting provision that seeks to provide protection for 29.86 million Filipinos at the same cost per injection.

Some P896.4 million is also allocated for the construction of warehouses for the storage of vaccines, while P2.48 billion is earmarked for the hiring of additional vaccinators.

So far, over 39 million individuals of the country’s 110 million population have been fully inoculated, while 54 million people are still waiting for their second doses. About 643,000 Filipinos have received booster jabs.

The government is eyeing to immunize more Filipinos during the nationwide vaccination drive slated on 15 to 17 December.

Vaccination remains a crucial component of the state’s pandemic response, especially amid the presence of emerging coronavirus variants like Omicron, which was said to be the virus type with the most number of mutations.

It has been detected in 57 countries, up from 38 days ago, with early data suggesting that it is more contagious than the Delta type which was blamed for deadly infection surges globally.

Authorities have yet to detect the newly-discovered Omicron variant in the Philippines, but the government has since imposed strict border controls to control the spread of the virus.