Concepcion bats for second booster shot for elderly, other priority groups

PRESIDENTIAL Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion has called for the immediate administration of second Covid-19 booster shots to those who are willing to be given a shot as long as they are included in the eligible population, or at least the priority groups (A1 to A4) who are due for their second boosters.

His proposal came after reports that some of the stocks of anti-coronavirus jabs are about to expire due to dwindling vaccination and boostering rates nationwide amid the detection of new Omicron variants.

The Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed the local transmission of the highly contagious Omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1. Per the Philippine Genome Center, 90 percent of the cases of infection nationwide are due to Omicron.

Amid this threat, however, there are still some 90 million doses of the existing formulation of the Covid-19 vaccine available, either sourced from donations or purchased by the government and the private sector.

“We have the vaccines and like all vaccines these are time-bound. We need to have a sense of urgency,” the Go Negosyo founder said. “Let the individual decide if he believes he could benefit from the shots. There are already people who want to receive their second booster shots.”

According to him, the Philippines needs to stay healthy so it can pay for its capital expenditures and the debts it incurred in its pandemic response, including the purchase of vaccines. The country now has an outstanding debt of P12.6 trillion. This is projected to rise to P13.2 trillion by the end of the year. 

“There is nothing wrong with debt, as long as it is invested in capital expenditures that will help propel growth,” Concepcion said. “But we need to maintain a good credit rating, and in order to do that, we have to stay healthy.”

Eliminating hindrances

Concepcion believes that the most cost-effective and efficient way of using the vaccines is the removal of the remaining barriers to their administration. Among these hindrances is a priority group-based system, which restricts the administration of the vaccines to specific groups. 

     The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases said Priority Group A1 includes frontline health workers in both national and local and private and public facilities, as well as health professionals and non-professionals like students, nursing aides, janitors, and barangay health workers. Senior citizens are categorized under A2; persons with comorbidities, A3; and frontline staff in essential sectors, including uniformed personnel, A4.

“It’s not like people are scrambling to get vaccinated—they’re not. So why are we still imposing priority groups today? We are applying solutions that made sense when vaccines were scarce. We have so much supply today,” he said, while citing another barrier being the rising complacency among the population given the current low-risk levels.

As of May 17, the number of people given booster shots has stopped at a little over 13 million. More than 45 million Filipinos have already completed their primary doses.

Boosters for seniors, immunocompromised individuals

The Food and Drug Administration has suggested second booster shots to increase protection. The DOH, meanwhile, is waiting for final recommendations from the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) before they start their administration for senior citizens and health-care workers.

Concepcion earlier appealed to the HTAC to adopt the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control which, he believes, can address the oversupply of millions of Covid-19 vaccines, speed up booster uptake, and head off possible surges in infection that could come with the entry of new Covid variants.

In the United States, second boosters can be given to people 50 years and older, and those 12 and older who are immunocompromised since they are more likely to suffer severe illness from Covid-19. The extra shot is believed to strengthen immunity levels that would have declined months after the first booster shot. While the primary and first booster doses are still effective though with decreased potency, people aged over 50 are likely to suffer more severe outcomes, thus necessitating a second booster or fourth dose.

During a meeting organized by Go Negosyo on May 16, medical doctors warned of long infection, where lingering effects such as prolonged muscle and joint pain, result in a decrease in quality of life and reduced productivity. 

Public health and policy experts also noted that delays in implementing second boosters could cause logjams further down the line as mass inoculations cannot be expected to immediately happen following the issuance of guidelines. 

“By that time and if a new variant causes more infections, it would have been too late and we would have a sick population,” the presidential adviser for entrepreneurship pointed out.

He emphasized that the Philippines cannot afford any further losses in productivity, heightened alert levels, or workers unable to return to work anew. 

“We are in a situation where business remains fragile. We are feeling the brunt of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, with spiraling commodity prices. The risk of stagflation is much higher when goods become so expensive that consumers cannot afford to buy and then growth does not happen,” Concepcion said.

“While the Philippines is in a very good spot when it comes to infection levels, we must remember how we reached this point: our wall of immunity has been strengthened because of vaccinations,” he said.