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Concepcion, Octa’s Austriaco: Give boosters in as soon as four months after second dose

While the NCR will continue to enjoy low COVID cases and its healthcare system is at very low risk of being overwhelmed, the Philippines needs to speed up booster vaccinations.

This was the call made in a joint statement by Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion and OCTA Research Fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco during the townhall meeting “VAX to the MAX: Preventing the Surge” which was held last December 15 and organized by Go Negosyo.

“We … recommend that the national government consider shortening the interval between the second dose and the booster dose from 6 months to 4 months,” said the statement.

“There is data that suggests that acquired immunity from the COVID-19 vaccines significantly decreases at around five months, sometimes sooner depending upon the vaccine brand. Shortening the time between the second dose and the booster dose, especially today when the Philippines has an excess supply of vaccines, would preserve the significant population immunity that is mitigating the pandemic in the country at this time,” it continued.

During the townhall, Austriaco said that the government must prepare to boost all Filipinos by the first or second quarter of 2022 to prevent a massive surge. Austriaco also cited recent announcements from Denmark showing that vaccine effectiveness begins to wane after five months, and will administer booster shots at 4.5 months.

Concepcion and Austriaco’s joint statement goes on to say that recent data from South Africa “suggests that the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV2 is indeed more transmissible and more immune-evasive. It is likely that it will trigger a surge when it arrives in the Philippines.”

It added, however, that the experience of South Africa also suggests that the patients infected with the Omicron variant experienced milder symptoms than that of patients infected with the Delta variant.

During the townhall, which is Go Negosyo’s final townhall for 2021, Austriaco presented data from Gauteng province in South Africa, which is comparable to the NCR in terms of population and urban density, showing that at the height of their surge, Gauteng experienced relatively low hospitalization rates.

“South Africa gives us a good assessment of when Omicron arrives,” he said, but added that the NCR has more robust and resilient vaccinations than Gauteng.

Concepcion, meanwhile, said that the Philippines has the tools to be able to handle the threat of waning vaccine protection in the population. “We have the vaccines, and it will be those vaccines that will create that wall of protection,” he said. Based on several sources tracking the arrival of vaccines in the country, by the end of the year the Philippines will have received close to 200 million vaccine doses.

“We don’t want to wait until our immunity is lost, it will make our kababayans more vulnerable,” said Austriaco. “Given the excess supply, our country should consider shortening the gap to protect more of our kababayans in the months to come”

Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III said that the government’s vaccine expert panel is looking into speeding up the administration of  booster shots. “Advancing the boosters is something that is being looked into,” he said. “There seems to be a growing body of evidence that it would be beneficial if we advance the booster of people who have had their primary series,” he said.

In the statement, Concepcion and Austriaco also emphasized the importance of vaccinations. ”We recommend that our vaccination drive should continue to focus on increasing population immunity in our cities and first class municipalities, especially urban areas surrounding our international gateways, including all airports and seaports. This will delay the spread of Omicron when it arrives. The significant population protection in the urban regions of our country will also help to shield our farming communities and our kababayans living in the countryside, many of whom have not yet been vaccinated,” said the statement.

“We need to continue to VAX to the MAX to ensure that all of our kababayans are fully immunized,” said the joint statement of Concepcion and Austriaco.

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