Vax rollout comes up short

As the country logged a six-month high of 4,578 new COVID-19 cases in one day, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III admitted that the country’s vaccination program was “not as quick” as the government wanted.

Duque’s admission came after Senator Panfilo Lacson said the Philippines would not be able to achieve herd immunity until 2033 based on the current pace of the vaccination program.

“At the rate of about 4,000 a day, assuming that the vaccination is not accelerated and assuming we will have the vaccines… we might not achieve herd immunity until 2033,” Lacson told CNN-Philippines.

Duque said some 83,000 health personnel have been inoculated so far.

The Palace, on the other hand, said some 114,615 Filipinos had been vaccinated as of Wednesday, out of the government’s target of 70 million inoculated this year.

Duque admitted that the first week of the vaccine rollout was off to a slow start.

He also said giving health workers a choice of vaccine – China’s CoronaVac or the UK-developed AstraZeneca – was a factor in the slower pace of inoculation.

Duque said about 797,000 doses or more than 70 percent of the 1.1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in the country were already deployed to 361 implementing sites.

He also said that the waiting time to observe adverse symptoms on inoculated individuals has taken much of the time during the vaccine rollout, when in fact the actual vaccination only takes less than three minutes.

“We observed that the actual vaccination is short…But some people who exhibit more pronounced symptoms need more time to be observed,” he said in Filipino.

He said vaccinations were up to about 11,000 a day.

The Philippines logged 4,578 confirmed COVID-19 cases Friday, the highest in six months, pushing the country’s total infections to 611,618.

The day’s fresh cases is considered the highest since Sept. 14 last year, when the Department of Health announced 4,699 confirmed infections.

The DOH said this pushed the total active cases in the country to 52,012, also this year’s highest.

Among these, 92.2 percent are mild, 4.1 percent are asymptomatic, 1.5 percent are severe, and 1.5 percent are in critical condition.

A total of 87 more fatalities also brought the death toll to 12,694.

Total recoveries climbed to 546,912 after 272 more patients recovered from the illness.

Amid the rising cases, Metro Manila mayors agreed to reimpose curfew hours for two weeks starting Monday.

The OCTA Research group that has been tracking the pandemic warned that the country might record more than 6,500 new daily COVID-19 cases by the end of March.

In a report, the researchers said Metro Manila alone can record up to over 4,000 new daily COVID-19 infections at the end of the month due to the increase in the reproduction number (R) in the region at 1.86. An R value above 1 can lead to exponential growth.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the government is trying to speed up vaccinations.

“The DOH has met with vaccine sites and regional directors to hasten the vaccine rollout,” Vergeire said in Filipino during a virtual briefing.

Vergeire pointed out that the Philippines is still in the early stages of vaccination since the 600,000 Sinovac jabs were only rolled out on March 1.

“We have not distributed vaccines to all regions. Our distribution is ongoing. Just like with Sinovac, for the first three days, the number of vaccine recipients was low. But after a while, it kicked off and increased. So we are hoping that as the days pass, our accomplishment will improve,” Vergeire said.

Vergeire also said herd immunity is the long-term goal while the reduction of morbidity and mortality linked to COVID-19 is the immediate focus.

Marikina City Mayor Marcelino Teodoro also expressed disappointment with the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines a year into the pandemic.

“The problem really is with the supply of the vaccine and the [national] government should, I think, it’s imperative to address this problem of supply,” he told ANC.

Teodoro was reacting to Duque’s statement that the inoculation drive was not quick enough.

In Marikina City, Teodoro said they had listed nearly 5,000 medical frontliners for the vaccination.

“We’re only able to inoculate around 1,500. So, that’s not even half of the number of medical frontliners that we intended to be inoculated,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines Inc. (PHAPi) said private hospitals could reach full capacity in the next three to four weeks if the spike in COVID-19 cases goes unabated.

Association president Dr. Jose Rene De Grano said projections that new COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila could soar to 5,000 per day by the end of the month could overwhelm hospitals.

“If we don’t do anything about it then most probably if you follow the trend, maybe in the next three or four weeks, if this is not abated, then we’ll be reaching full capacity in the next four weeks,” he told ANC.

De Grano earlier said the 10 percent to 15 percent rise in the COVID-19 bed occupancy rate of private hospitals could have been caused by the new coronavirus variants, the reopening of the economy, and relaxed adherence to health protocols.

Also on Friday, Senator Christopher Go encouraged the public to get vaccinated, saying the vaccines had gone through a rigorous safety and efficacy evaluation process. But Senator Francis Pangilinan said mass testing, tracing and isolation were wanting a year after the pandemic began.

“Today feels like March 2020 all over again, with the spike in COVID cases and the slow vaccine roll-out,” Pangilinan said.

“How many have already been tested? How about the people who cannot afford to pay for tests? Has the much-touted 10 million tests by the first quarter of 2021 been achieved? What’s our data on contact tracing? Has it been effective? How is our vaccine procurement, delivery and administration going?” Pangilinan said.

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