MANILA – National Task Force Against Covid-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. defended the country’s pandemic response efforts following the release of the latest Nikkei Covid-19 Recovery Index where the Philippines ranked last among 121 countries.
“While we understand the main intention of these financial and business magazines in pushing economic recovery globally, we have to put into consideration the varying pandemic experiences of each country measured in this index,” Galvez said during the launch of a mega vaccination site in Valenzuela City on Thursday.
“Context is very important. The data used by Nikkei only covered the month of September wherein the Philippines was at the height of its fight against the highly transmissible Delta variant, while cases in other countries were going down,” he said.
Galvez said countries included in the index were measured in terms of their infection management, vaccination and mobility.
He pointed out that the Philippines has significantly improved its testing capacity since the pandemic hit last year, and in fact, the country was able to test more individuals compared to Indonesia and Myanmar in September based on Our World in Data.
“Mataas ang testing capacity natin at mataas rin ang lumalabas na nagpopositibo dahil kumalat na ang Delta sa mga komunidad kaya ang score na naibigay sa atin ay mababa rin (We have a high testing capacity and the number of persons infected is high too because of the Delta variant and so we got a low score),” he said.
"But this does not diminish the fact the Philippines was able to manage and delay the entry of the Delta variant because of our effective pandemic response strategy,” Galvez said.
“That’s why you cannot compare countries because each has a unique epidemic curve. Mababa ang mga kaso natin noong mga panahong dinagsa sila ng mga kaso dahil sa Delta. At noong nakapasok sa atin ang Delta, at saka naman nakaluwag ang ibang bansa (Our number of cases were low at the time when their [other countries] numbers went up because of Delta. And when we had the Delta, other countries' case numbers eased),” he said.
Impact on vax rollout and mobility
Galvez said the surge in Covid-19 cases, as well as mobility restrictions imposed by the government to contain the spread of the virus, had limited the country’s vaccination output.
The slow vaccination rollout among local government units last September was due to the focus of vaccinators and local officials on managing cases in their areas.
“Marami sa mga (Many of the) healthcare workers in vaccination sites were deployed to hospitals. Other personnel were tasked to man borders to monitor the entry of people from other localities. This is why many of our implementing units could only operate a limited number of vaccination centers,” Galvez said.
“The delay in the vaccine supply deliveries also has an impact on the rollout because, in September, we only received 19.4 million doses. And we have seen that if the vaccine deliveries are high, the administration of doses is also high,” he added.
The Philippines administered 11.89 million doses last September, while its fully vaccinated population stands at less than 25 percent.
Galvez said the country is expected to rebound in its inoculation drive this month. In recent days, the country has recorded its highest daily vaccine administration with roughly 630,000, bringing closer to the government’s target of 700,000 administrations per day.
The government also began the pilot of the Alert Level system with granular lockdowns in the National Capital Region last month to ease the restrictions.
While this system led to the gradual easing of mobility restrictions, stay-at-home policies for specific age groups were still retained.
“We understand that the mobility of our people is really the key to revive our nation’s economy. But we have to make sure that this is done in a safe and calculated manner to ensure that our reopening will be sustainable and will not compromise public health,” Galvez said.
Other factors to be considered
The vaccine czar also suggested that the country’s case fatality rate and the number of deaths must also be considered when looking at recovery from a global perspective.
“Case fatality rate in the country has remained relatively low. This is one of the measures that should be considered in pandemic recovery because this is where you see if a government’s pandemic response is really working,” Galvez said.
“At kapag mataas ang kaso pero mababa naman ang namamatay, ang ibig sabihin (When cases are high but the number of deaths is low, it means that) our strategies are effective because our people are not dying,” he noted.
Despite the country’s increasing number of cases last September, its moving average case fatality ranged from 1 percent - 1.2 percent only.
Galvez attributed this to the measures that have been put in place to ensure that Covid-19 patients are given the best treatments available in the country.
“We did not suffer an acute shortage of oxygen because we prepared for it. We anticipated the possible increase in demand for oxygen so the DTI and the DOH closely coordinated and worked with private suppliers and manufacturers to ensure we have a sufficient supply in case the need arises,” he said.
“All of these measures and preparations were done to ensure that our healthcare system will not get overwhelmed and will continue to function even if there will be a surge in cases,” Galvez added.
A better Christmas
Galvez is confident in the country’s overall pandemic response and recovery strategy, as he gave the assurance the national government is working hard to bring back a greater sense of normalcy among Filipinos.
“Paganda nang paganda na ang mga numerong ating nakikita (The numbers are getting better). And we are happy that aside from the numbers, we also hear positive feedback from our people regarding our pandemic response efforts. And that’s what matters,” he said.
As of October 6, the country has completely vaccinated 22.6 million Filipinos or 29.37 percent of its target population.
Galvez expressed confidence the Philippines would be able to achieve its target of fully inoculating 50 to 70 percent of its target population by yearend, as the nation’s vaccination coverage includes the general population, as well as those aged 12 to 17 with co-morbidities beginning this month.
Aside from the growing number of fully vaccinated Filipinos, the country’s Covid-19 vaccine supply continues to increase with the arrival of bigger shipments from various manufacturers.
As of October 7, the total vaccine deliveries to the Philippines since February have reached 81.4 million doses and is expected to hit the 100-million mark by the end of this month. (PR)