“Population protection” against COVID-19 is what the Philippines is eyeing to achieve before the end of the year instead of “herd immunity,” according to the Department of Health.
The country’s earlier target was to inoculate 70 percent of the population in NCR Plus, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao (58 million people) by the end of the year or early next year to achieve herd immunity.
But with the shift to the term “population protection,” the country is now looking at vaccinating 50 to 60 percent of the population—with focus on Metro Manila and nearby provinces which have a high number of COVID-19 infections, Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje said in a briefing on Wednesday.
She explained that population protection means minimizing hospitalization and deaths from COVID-19.
“Ang ating term ngayon ay ‘population protection.’ We prevent hospitalization. We prevent and minimize deaths by prioritizing. And the bigger the population that is vaccinated, we have population protection so hindi magkakahawaaan. Kung may magkahawaan man, this will be very mild,” said Cabotaje, who is also the National Vaccinations Operations Center chairperson.
Cabotaje also said the shift to using the term “population protection” through mass immunization was made because herd immunity has many accompanying criteria.
She added, “We are considering the variant; we are considering the regular definition of the herd immunity na magkakaroon ka ng protection, ng full protection na tuluy-tuloy,” she said.
The World Health Organization defines herd immunity as the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection.
And to safely achieve herd immunity, a substantial number of the population would need to be vaccinated to lower the overall amount of virus that are able to spread in the population.
With the delayed arrival of vaccines in the country that were expected this May (1.3 million doses of Sputnik V and 2.2 million doses of Pfizer), the government has adjusted its goals that are based on the global supply of the vaccines. The country has so far received over eight million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, which include AstraZeneca and Sinovac.
In a press briefing Thursday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque echoed what DOH had said earlier. “Ang realidad talaga, from the beginning, we had expectations to have more vaccines, which did not happen, particularly in the vaccination process. Pero ngayon naman po ay dumarating na ang ating mga bakuna.”
Roque also said in a briefing earlier this week that more than half of the vaccines that are expected to arrive in the country will be allotted for those in the NCR Plus (which has majority of the COVID-19 cases in the country), Cebu and Davao.
The Philippines rolled out its vaccination drive on March 1, vaccinating priority groups that included frontline healthcare workers (A1), senior citizens (A2) and adults with comorbidities (A3). As of May 25, the country has administered around 4.5 million doses of vaccines according to ourworldindata.org.
In June, the government is expected to expand its inoculation drive to essential workers (A4) and indigent population (A5).
Banner and thumbnail photo by Michael Varcas/The Philippine STAR