By: Dexter Cabalza, Leila B. Salaverria – Philippine Daily Inquirer
The Department of Health (DOH) aims to ramp up vaccination efforts against COVID-19 with the help of the private sector, which will put up its own jab sites and deploy health workers, Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said on Saturday.
The DOH also said it would deploy medical experts to help convince more people to get themselves inoculated, amid uncertainty among the public on the safety of vaccines as shown by a recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey.
The department announced these plans as it noted the pace of the vaccination drive picking up, as affirmed also by the National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF) on Saturday.
At the Laging Handa briefing, Vergeire said implementing a 24-hour vaccination drive, as suggested by a lawmaker, “is not among the priority strategies we would do for now.” She was referring to a proposal from House Deputy Speaker Michael Romero, who called for “longer hours” at inoculation centers to avoid overcrowding.
“The priority now is our partnership with the private sector, wherein they will open their own massive vaccination sites. They will deploy their own health-care workers and they will help us in the vaccination,” she said.
One such vaccination site in the works is that planned by ports and gaming tycoon Enrique Razon Jr. at the Nayong Pilipino grounds in Parañaque City, which environmental advocates recently opposed.
‘Past the crawl stage’
Vergeire said the DOH might operate 24-hour vaccination centers if the department sees a need for it later. “Maybe if we see that there are a lot of supplies and we need to further expand vaccination, that is when we would go to that strategy,” she said.
The DOH earlier said the vaccine rollout had reached an average of 108,000 doses administered daily over the past week, compared to only 60,000 to 70,000 shots in earlier periods.
The NTF on Saturday reported a total of 229,769 vaccine doses administered on May 20 alone—the highest single-day record since the drive began in March.
“We are very happy with this milestone, as we were able to double the number of jabs in less than a week. I am very confident that with the current pace that we have, we can breach the 4 million mark by early next week,” vaccine czar and task force chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. said in a statement.
The task force said a total of 3,718,308 doses have been administered nationwide to the A1 (health-care workers), A2 (senior citizens) and A3 (persons with comorbidities) priority groups.
“We are now moving past the crawl stage as we begin to walk. However, this is not yet enough as our main goal is to run, where we will be able to administer at least half a million doses or more daily,” Galvez said.
The DOH is intensifying its information campaign to reverse vaccine hesitancy following an SWS survey this week that showed that only three out of 10 Filipinos were willing to get COVID-19 shots, while the rest were either reluctant or still undecided.
But the survey also found 51 percent of the respondents to be confident about the government’s evaluation of the vaccines, 17 percent said they were not confident and 31 percent were uncertain.
Vergeire said preference for a certain vaccine brand affected people’s confidence in getting inoculated.
The government this week started imposing a ‘’brand agnostic’’ policy wherein potential recipients would only be informed of the brand at the inoculation sites. Since the policy took effect, Vergeire said, many people continued to show up for their appointments.
To build more trust in the vaccines, “we are now trying to deploy our experts so that they could be the ones to explain to the public the importance of the vaccines and how safe these are,” the health official added.
Virus case update
The country logged an additional 6,831 COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the highest daily uptick in almost two weeks, or since May 11.
The latest DOH tally showed 54,326 active cases, of which 93.6 percent are mild, 1.9 percent are asymptomatic, 1.3 percent are moderate, 1.9 percent are severe and 1.4 percent are critical.
The country had logged a total 1,178,217 cases since the start of the pandemic. There were 7,981 new recoveries, bringing the total of survivors to 1,103,945.
An additional 183 deaths raised to total fatality count to 19,946.
The DOH said 17 duplicate cases were removed from the total case count. All but three of the department’s testing laboratories were able to submit their data on time to the COVID-19 Document Repository System.
Meanwhile, 60 percent of the country’s intensive care unit (ICU) beds numbering more than 1,900 were in use, while 38 percent of more than 2,000 mechanical ventilators are being utilized.
In Metro Manila, ICU bed utilization is at 61 percent of around 700 beds, while 39 percent of around 800 mechanical ventilators are in use. —WITH A REPORT FROM JULIE M. AURELIO