WITH the Covid-19 situation improving, there is increasing discussion about the appropriate next steps to take. Based on news reports, more attention is now given on the need for booster shots and addressing vaccine hesitancy. But these seem premature. The government still needs to do better in executing the basics at least for now.
On Covid-19 booster shots, we agree with those saying that it may be too early to allow them. Even Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd appeared reluctant, based on his public statements, even for just the health workers. We agree with his view that more in the general population should be vaccinated first.
After all, reports say that most Covid-19 patients who required hospitalization were unvaccinated. Reports also suggest that many of the breakthrough cases among the vaccinated tend to be less severe with hardly anyone dying.
We cannot blame policymakers for thinking that the country has already turned the corner, so to speak. Recently, a Palace statement projected that 85 percent of the eligible population in Metro Manila would be fully vaccinated by the end of October. But that should not be confused with the actual number of people inoculated, which is less.
The target estimated to achieve herd immunity is 70 percent of the population, which translates to about 140 million vaccine doses needed. Note that most brands require two jabs. Nationwide, only 33.12 percent of the 70 million have been vaccinated as of Oct. 10, 2021. We should remember that the target of 70 percent is an estimate, and it may be possible that realizing herd immunity will actually require a higher percentage.
Even in Metro Manila, many more still need a shot. The government only recently allowed the general population and teenagers to be inoculated finally after waiting for months until many of the priority groups had received theirs. And in the same Palace statement mentioned earlier, the government hopes to ramp up inoculations to up to 50 percent of the eligible population in Metropolitan Cebu and Davao and in the provinces of Bulacan, Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Pampanga and Rizal. That reinforces the view that we have a long way to go.
The authorities want to increase the rate of inoculations to as much as 800,000 daily, but even that may be slow given our large population. Even if we have 30 percent already inoculated today, vaccinating the rest of the herd immunity target will take about three months at 800,000 jabs daily. Note that the present daily rate is averaging only around 411,000.
Demand to grow
On our other point, the authorities need a contingency plan for acquiring even more vaccines given the likely uptick in global demand. More countries are beginning to require a third shot or booster jabs, and those in the northern hemisphere might stock up on more doses for the onset of the influenza season, brought about by the colder weather.
We hope that local authorities will not use vaccine hesitancy as a cover for their inability to procure more supply when demand increases. The simple reality is that there are still not enough vaccines for those who want it even with more doses arriving in the Philippines. Fortunately, the present level of inoculations already seem sufficient in slowing down the spread of Covid-19. But we know how situations can quickly turn bad.
Also, the authorities still need to do better in testing and contact tracing. The need for those are supported by the elevated positivity rate. The desired number is 5 percent, according to the World Health Organization, but the present rate is more than double, almost triple, in fact. A high positivity rate suggests that there are plenty of undetected cases.
It would be a mistake to ease up on testing and contact tracing even as vaccinations increase. In fact, they are needed more now that the economy is reopening and travel restrictions are gradually being relaxed. Plus, there will be more public gatherings because of the election campaign season and because people are just tired of staying home.
Simply put, we still cannot let our guard down.Internet Explorer Channel Network