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Medical experts back business sector’s call to reopen the economy and, mobility for the fully vaccinated

Medical professionals, including two former secretaries of the Department of Health (DOH), have declared support for the business sector’s call to ramp up vaccination as a way to protect the citizenry while allowing more mobility for vaccinated individuals to sustain the economy. The dialogue between medical experts and the business sector was held last September 27, and was facilitated by Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion.

“We need to open the economy and move to at least Alert Level 3 this fourth quarter. The last quarter is when consumers spend a lot of money. This can be done for areas with high vaccination, or around 80%,” Concepcion said.

During the dialogue, former Health Secretary Dr. Esperanza Cabral said learning how to live with COVID-19 is the best way to keep the economy alive. “This is the time to live with COVID. It is important that we have an economy if we are to live with COVID,” she said.

Manuel Dayrit, another former Health Secretary, said the national government’s alert levels or quarantine restrictions must be in accordance with the country’s vaccination levels. “The alert levels or the quarantine restrictions must be in accordance with vaccination levels already,” said Dayrit, a former Dean of Ateneo de Manila University School of Medicine and Public Health.

Experts and the government have noted the encouraging indicators in the Philippines’s COVID-19 situation. OCTA Research Group fellow Dr. Guido David reported a decline in the reproduction growth level of COVID-19 cases in various regions in the country; the research group expects the reproduction number and other indicators – such as ADAR (average daily attack rate), ICU utilization, and positivity rate – to improve in the remaining months of 2021. Meanwhile, Metro Manila Development Authority chairman Benhur Abalos reported that as of September 27, the National Capital Region has over 7.1 million fully vaccinated individuals, representing 72.65 percent of the target population.

Concepcion had earlier called for more mobility and less restrictions for fully vaccinated individuals under the proposed Bakuna Bubble scheme. The proposal is meant to protect unvaccinated individuals while at the same time mobilizing the fully vaccinated to safely reopen the economy. It received support from the doctors present during the dialogue, as well as from over a thousand business owners, franchisees and executives from various sectors and industries.

Philippine Medical Association President Dr. Benito Atienza reiterated their position of being pro–people, pro–life and, pro – economic recovery. He also called on encouraging vaccination of pregnant women and OFWs residing in provinces.

“By pushing for privileges for the vaccinated, then we can allow people to really appreciate the value of vaccines aside from protection from COVID,” said Dr. Lulu Bravo, Committee Chairperson of the National Adverse Events Following Immunization and Pediatric Infectious and Tropical Diseases Professor at the UP Manila.

Dr. Raymundo Lo, head of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center’s COVID-19 testing, said that ramping up vaccination is the only way to encourage more people to get vaccinated. He added that having several privileges for the fully vaccinated will also help entice unvaccinated persons to get shots against COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Dr. Minguita Padilla, President and Chair OF Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines, addressed concerns that the proposal discriminates against the unvaccinated, saying, “It is not discrimination since the unvaccinated have the choice. Discrimination occurs when there is not choice for them.”

During the dialogue, the medical experts batted for intensified testing, contact tracing and vaccination rollouts, especially on senior citizens, overseas Filipino workers, and pregnant women.

“OFWs can be given less quarantine restrictions since most of them are already fully vaccinated,” infectious disease expert Dr. Benjamin Co said.

Other incentives were also put forward by airline industry representatives during the dialogue, including reducing quarantine periods, allowing passengers to quarantine from the comfort of their homes, and presenting vaccination cards in place of RT-PCR tests.

Stakeholders also called for the creation of a unified data recording system from the government to analyze data and to have a unified protocol of restrictions for local government units.

Concepcion, for his part, thanked the medical community’s support for the safe economic reopening. He then asked members of the medical groups to help amplifying the message of granting mobility for the vaccinated and convince the government to bring down the quarantine levels.

“Now is the time to join forces with the private sector as we reopen the economy. We are willing to listen to your recommendations to do this safely and if we do this in unity, we will be able to succeed,” Concepcion stressed.

Concepcion added that allowing the businesses to bounce back will prevent the frightening after-effects of this pandemic to the economy.

“We have to save lives, but we must not kill the economy by doing so,” he said, while pointing out that granting greater mobility and more privileges to the vaccinated is already a strategy being implemented in other countries.

Among those who attended the meeting and provided support for safe reopening of the economy for the fully vaccinated are Dr. Roberto Padua, Jr., President, Philippine Society of Pathologists, Dr. Oscar Tinio, Chairman of Philippine Medical Association, Dr. Phil Pangilinan, President of the Philippine College of Occupational Medicine, and Dr. Tony Leachon, Independent Health Reform Advocate and Past President, Philippine College of Physicians.

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