We were told this week by the Department of Health that people inoculated with the Sputnik V vaccine may wait up to six months before getting their second dose.
This is definitely longer than the recommended interval period under the vaccine’s emergency use authorization of 21 days to 42 days after the first dose as well as the extended 90-day interval period the Gamaleya Research Institute sought.
DOH Epidemiology Bureau director Dr. Alethea De Guzman told a news briefing: “First, we want to reassure those who have already received the first dose of Sputnik that we can wait, six months after the first dose.”
“Second, the first dozen of Sputnik can actually confer a high efficacy rate. I think they are already reporting it at an 80 percent efficacy rate,” De Guzman said, giving assurances at the same time that the first dose of the vaccine also had a high efficacy rate.
“And third, the vaccine czar is actually working for our second dose of Sputnik,” she added.
In August, the country had received 15,000 doses of the vaccine intended to be used as the second dose.
In the meantime, the government is considering raising its herd immunity goal from the original 70 percent to 90 percent of the country’s 110-million population due to COVID-19’s Delta variant.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. made the declaration based on an assessment made by local experts to provide enough protection for Filipinos against the more contagious and deadly variant.
“Because of the Delta variant, we have to raise our herd immunity target by maybe 80 to 90 percent,” said Galvez, adding the herd immunity might be achieved by early next year.
Based on the latest government data, at least 15 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated against the virus.
In Metro Manila, Galvez said that 52.3 percent of the target population or around five million residents had been fully vaccinated while 81.72 percent or about eight million residents had received at least one dose.
Galvez said the country was expecting some 25 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines this month, including 12 million doses of Sinovac, five million doses of Pfizer, two million doses of Moderna, three million doses from Covax facility and one million doses each of AstraZeneca and Sputnik V and 1 million doses from donations.
Upon arrival, these vaccines will be immediately delivered to a facility in Marikina City-owned and operated by Pharmaserv Express Inc., the Department of Health’s third-party storage and logistics partner in the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program.
Pharmaserv will also facilitate the packaging and distribution of vaccines to various local government units.
Galvez recently lauded the firm’s cold-chain hub as “world-class” as it can store various brands of COVID-19 vaccines with different temperature requirements.
Three Israeli medical experts who recently visited the country also described PharmaServ’s facility as “excellent” and praised the cold-chain company’s packaging and distribution method that ensures the safety and efficacy of vaccines.
Meanwhile, the government this week was ironing out guidelines for the shift to granular lockdowns in Metro Manila – this was scheduled to start in mid-week – to support the economy despite the continuing pandemic.
This developed as the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the country’s biggest business organization, is pushing for the full reopening of the economy as it argued that any form of lockdown was disruptive to businesses.
In a statement, PCCI acting president Edgardo Lacson said the business group wished for the full opening of the economy even if the herd immunity threshold was not met as yet due to the moving and elusive target of 50 percent to 100 percent inoculation of the population.
“Many health experts claim it is impossible to achieve herd immunity as the virus keeps mutating and the vaccine is always behind the curve,” Lacson said.
“The COVID-19 virus and its variants will be here forever but it can be contained by simply observing prescribed health protocols of masking, handwashing, and social distancing.”
“The truth of the matter is the ECQ as we practice, it may not be enough, we need to come up with a new strategy,” Roque said on Monday.
The Philippines exited recession in the second quarter of 2021 after five consecutive quarters of GDP contraction.
But a renewed surge in COVID-19 cases forced authorities to impose stricter curbs in August, leading to a cut in this year’s economic growth outlook to 4.0 to 5.0 percent, from 6.0 to 7.0 percent previously.
Daily cases in the past 30 days alone accounted for more than a fifth of the country’s total infections of over 2.1 million, while deaths have exceeded 34,000.
The World Health Organization, for its part, supports the government’s decision to shift to a looser quarantine status and to implement granular lockdowns in localities, with some recommendations to make the new policy efficient.
“If we are now considering moving from a very stringent quarantine to a more relaxed quarantine with very granular lockdowns, which is something that the WHO advocates and supports, the critically important element is that those granular lockdowns, those actions need to be influenced by very accurate, very up-to-date data,” WHO country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe told CNN Philippines’ The Source on Tuesday.
Abeyasinghe noted that timely and accurate data on the COVID-19 cases, their severity, and the clustering of infections would help in determining the success of the granular or “pocket area” lockdowns that will be implemented in most parts of Metro Manila.
Authorities have said Metro Manila will remain under the stricter modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) until Sept. 15, after members of the Inter-Agency Task Force of the Emerging Infectious Diseases, in its meeting earlier this week decided to defer the pilot implementation of the general community quarantine “with Alert Levels System” in Metro Manila, where 13 million of the 110 million population live.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the quarantine classification in Metro Manila would only be downgraded to GCQ once the country’s metropolis is ready for the pilot implementation of granular lockdowns.
“Metro Manila’s current risk classification as modified enhanced community quarantine shall be maintained until September 15, 2021, or until the pilot GCQ with Alert Level System is implemented, whichever comes first,” Roque, also acting as IATF-EID spokesperson, said in a press statement.
Metro Manila was supposed to be under regular GCQ from Sept. 8 to 30 to pave the way for the implementation of localized or granular lockdowns in the country’s metropolis.
Following the deferment of GCQ implementation in Metro Manila, indoor and al-fresco dine-in services will remain prohibited, Roque said.
Roque added that personal care services like beauty salons, beauty parlors, and nail spas are likewise not allowed.
Religious services, Roque said, may be performed through “online video recording and transmission.”
Roque said necrological services in wakes, inurnment, and funerals can still be attended by immediate family members, so long as the deceased died of non-COVID-19 causes.
“However, they need to show satisfactory proof of their relationship with the deceased and have to comply with the minimum public health standards,” he said.