PRESIDENTIAL Adviser for Entrepreneurship Jose Maria “Joey” Concepcion 3rd on Thursday reiterated his call to expand the term “fully vaccinated” to include those who had received booster shots, following the entry of the Omicron subvariant BA.2.12 in the country.
Concepcion pushed for the redefinition amid the low booster uptake and the emergence of new variants of Covid-19.
“I must repeat the suggestion I made early this year and have been emphasizing since: ‘fully vaccinated’ must mean having completed the primary dose and at least one booster shot,” Concepcion said in a statement.
“We are already seeing what the experts have predicted, and we already know what to do. Those who are eligible and vulnerable should already be taking their booster shots,” he said.
Concepcion said experts, including those from the World Health Organization, have warned that the Philippines could experience a rise in Covid cases by May.
OCTA Research fellow Guido David, speaking during a recent Go Negosyo townhall, warned of a possible surge in May to June, resembling the BA.2.12 outbreak in South Africa.
Another OCTA fellow, microbiologist Nicanor Austriaco, said any of the three new Omicron variants could trigger a surge, noting that “some hybrid immunity is going to be waning.”
“If you did not get Omicron in January and you are primarily relying on vaccination and you are not boosted, this is the time for you to get boosted because your waning immunity will probably be not as strong in the face of these new variants…. The important thing right now is to get boosted,” Austriaco said.
Emerging variants and sub-variants of the highly contagious Omicron could escape both acquired and vaccine-induced immunity, further strengthening the case for additional doses of the vaccine.
Concepcion said other countries are already realizing that primary vaccinations do not offer enough protection against new variants, prompting them to step up booster vaccinations.
“Filipinos need to be in the best state of protection in order to keep health care utilization rates down. Otherwise, the country risks rising hospitalizations and lockdowns which might stall momentum toward economic recovery,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) explained in its website that being fully vaccinated is not the same as having the best protection.
“People are best protected,” said the CDC, “when they stay up to date with Covid-19 vaccinations, which include getting boosters when eligible.” Concepcion said the health care utilization rate is a key indicator in determining whether an area will be put under stricter mobility restrictions or alert level status.
“The Philippines can no longer afford to shut down its economy should Covid cases once again start flooding the country’s hospitals,” he said.
“We must strive for Filipinos to be in their best state of protection. If they’re only half-protected, all of us stand to lose because we increase the probability of more people being hospitalized for severe Covid,” Concepcion said.
He said the private sector is already looking for ways to entice people back to vaccination centers.
He mentioned incentives-based schemes wherein customers who can show proof of a booster vaccination get discounts and freebies from commercial establishments.
“Getting vaccinated and updating that vaccination with a booster shot is the least that a Filipino can do to contribute to preserving the country’s economy and protecting his fellow Filipinos,” Concepcion said.
“We have done it before when we got our primary vaccinations, so it should not be so difficult to do it again,” he added.
Medical experts are in agreement that the protection provided by vaccines can wane in as short as four months after the primary dose, necessitating a third, or booster, dose to restore protection against severe illness or death from Covid-19.