By Brontë H. Lacsamana
Both the Department of Health (DoH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) reiterated on Tuesday the lack of evidence showing booster shots’ ability to strengthen immunity against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), much less the Delta variant, which has become dominant in the Philippines.
Of the 746 samples sequenced by the Philippine Genome Center last week, about 70% were found to have the highly transmissible variant, according to both agencies. The country on Monday logged more than 22,300 COVID-19 cases, the highest daily tally since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
“We don’t have evidence right now on whether declining or neutralizing antibody levels justifies getting a third dose of the same or of a different vaccine. The fundamental issue is, we’ve seen lower efficacy [against Delta] and breakthrough infections through all vaccine brands, and if an additional dose would prevent infection, we have not seen any evidence of it,” said Rabindra R. Abeyasinghe, WHO Representative to the Philippines, in an Aug. 31 media briefing.
Meanwhile, the DoH reported that all regions except for Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) have had Delta variant cases. The government’s approach for the surge has been granular lockdowns in areas with high case count, which allow for more mobility than hard, nationwide lockdowns.
“We can do active case finding and vaccination and enforce the minimum public health standards in these areas,” said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire at the DoH media conference on Tuesday, citing a drop in severe and critical cases this week to 1.6% of total COVID-19 cases, from 3% last week.
She echoed Mr. Abyesinghe’s reminder that there is no evidence of booster shots raising efficacy or increasing the length of immunity. She also mentioned the possibility of the DoH procuring second-generation vaccines, once research has proven them safe and effective against mutations.
For now, while there are insufficient studies on booster shots, vaccination and strict public health standards are needed to protect against the highly transmissible variant, according to Mr. Abeyasinghe.
“Fighting this is not something that can be done by pointing fingers, by blaming other people. It becomes incumbent upon all of us to do what we can now so that we contribute to that effort, and it is now that we need to come together,” he said.