NCR Plus bubble to get more vaccines

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    Where to? An elderly patient connected to an oxygen tank is wheeled out of the Sta. Ana Hospital in Manila, one of several government hospitals that have declared full capacity for coronavius patients. Over the weekend, the Philippine Orthopedic Center, National Kidney and Transplant Institute, and Lung Center of the Philippines have also declared they are no longer accepting COVID patients. PHOTO BY RHOY COBILLA

    VACCINE czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. yesterday said the government will pour more vaccines to areas with high COVID-19 cases, like Metro Manila and provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal, or collectively called the NCR Plus, and centers of economic activities.

    Galvez, also the National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer, said he has consulted with former health secretaries, vaccine experts, and private sector representatives, among others, who shared the position that more vaccines should be allocated to Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Western Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula, as well as Cebu and Davao.

    “With the slippage of vaccine production, most probably our target vaccination will go down to 50 percent but to offset that, offset the target, we will prioritize the big areas that were heavily hit by COVID-19,” Galvez said.

    Galvez said, “granular vaccination” could be implemented, where the percentage of the population to be inoculated could range from 20 percent to 70 percent, depending on the health care capacity condition and number of cases in the area.

    Meanwhile, the country’s panel of vaccine experts said persons who contracted the coronavirus disease and got well should be inoculated 14 days after recovery, instead of the three months period set by the Department of Health, to avoid reinfection.

    In a virtual media forum, Dr. Rontgene Solante of the Vaccine Experts Panel (VEP) said they would formally recommend to the DOH to cut the waiting time to only two weeks because the 90 days recovery period is “too long.”

    “We wait for 90 days after they recover? That’s too long. Why will we wait for 90 days? If you get the infection and you recovered, you don’t wait for 90 days. You get the vaccine when you are already asymptomatic and declared recovered and that’s only another two weeks,” Solante said.

    Existing vaccination guidelines set by the DOH say that people who contracted COVID-19 may be vaccinated only after 90 days from the last day of treatment.

    But the VEP official noted a United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study which shows that people appear to be susceptible to reinfection around 90 days after the onset of infection but “reinfection appears to be uncommon during the initial 90 days after symptom onset of the preceding infection.”

    Solante insisted that “vaccines will work as long as you don’t have symptoms. If you don’t have symptoms, it’s safe.”

    Solante said the 14-day count starts on the day that the person is cleared of the infection.

    Actually, the vaccine expert said the DOH is already using the 14-day period for individuals who have already been administered their first dose of COVID-19 vaccines yet still contracted the virus.

    “Those who received the first dose and, thereafter, developed COVID-19 prior to their second dose, he can receive the second dose after 14 days from recovery, and not wait for 90 days,” he said.

    Galvez said the government would also expand the vaccination list to include those in the A4 and A5 lists, probably by May. The A4 category includes frontline personnel in essential sectors, including uniformed personnel and those in working sectors identified by the IATF as essential in times when enhanced community quarantine is imposed. On the other hand, the A5 refers to the indigent population.

    He said they plan to do this by May in time for the Labor Day since the A4 category refers to essential workers.

    At present the vaccination is focused on those under the A1 category (frontline workers in health facilities both national and local, private and public, health professionals and non-professionals like students, nursing aides, janitors, barangay health workers, etcetera), A2 (senior citizens), and A3 (persons with comorbidities).

    Galvez said the government has so far vaccinated 854,063 people (777,908 in March and 76,155 as of April 5), including 28,401 individuals who already got their second doses.

    Galvez and NTF deputy implementer Vince Dizon said they received their second dose last March 29 and apart from being sleepy, felt no other adverse effects.

    Galvez said the government aims to conduct up to one million vaccinations per week starting May and two to three million each week starting June.

    The country is expecting to get 2 million doses of vaccines this April – 1.5 million doses from Sinovac and 500,000 from Gamaleya, and 4.194 million May (2 million doses from Sinovac, 2 million from Gamaleya and 194,000 from Moderna).

    Galvez said they expect the vaccine deliveries to increase starting June – about 10.5 million doses from Sinovac, Gamaleya, Novavax and AstraZeneca.

    The bulk of the vaccines would arrive by July onwards when country-producing vaccines are able to complete the inoculation of their people. At least 13.5 million doses of vaccines from Sinovac, Gamaleya, Moderna, Novavax, Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca are due in July with 20 million doses from different companies starting August to December. – With Gerard Naval