VACCINES STILL WORK. Infectious diseases expert, Dr. Edsel Salvana, also a member of the Department of Health Technical Advisory Group, speaks to President Rodrigo Duterte during the Talk to the People on Monday (Nov. 29, 2021). Salvana is pushing for the ramping up of vaccination amid the threat of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. (Presidential Photo)

MANILA – An infectious diseases expert and member of the Department of Health (DOH) Technical Advisory Group is pushing for the ramping up of vaccination against the coronavirus amid the looming threat of the Omicron variant now wreaking havoc across Europe.

During the Talk to the People of President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, Dr. Edsel Salvana said the newly identified variant may be less susceptible to vaccines in preventing infection but the efficacy would not be "zero".

"Mababawasan lang (It is reduced) if ever and we still expect that the vaccines will continue to protect against severe disease. Sabi rin naman po ng (According to the) manufacturers, kung mukhang mababa talaga 'yung efficacy (if efficacy is low), they can also tweak the vaccines po," he said, reiterating that vaccines still work against the disease.

"It's possible the potency will decrease, but there are solutions to this. The testing and treatment will remain the same. And while we are waiting for more data, it is prudent to protect our borders and further accelerate vaccination."

No cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in the country but Salvana said it would only be a matter of time before it reaches the Philippines.

"It's completely impossible to keep this out. Eventually, it will get in. But if we delay its entry, then we have more time to prepare, just like what we did with Delta," he said.

In his presentation, Salvana said among the recommendations to delay the entry of the variant would be to escalate the green country protocols into yellow country protocols to enhance the monitoring of people coming to the country.

"Marami pa po tayong (We have many) questions about Omicron but it is always better to be safe than sorry. While we are waiting for these answers, it is best to – ingatan po natin (we should take precautions)," he said.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), researchers in South Africa and around the world are conducting studies to better understand many aspects of Omicron.

Regarding transmissibility, the WHO said it was not yet clear whether it is more transmissible compared to other variants, including Delta, and whether its infection causes more severe disease.

Omicron is fast spreading across Europe, prompting local authorities and other countries to contain its spread by shutting borders anew.

Aside from vaccination and tighter border controls, Salvana said adhering to the minimum public health protocols, such as wearing face mask and face shield, and physical distancing, would help curb the spread of the disease.

Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said authorities have tightened border controls to monitor incoming travelers, especially in the country's southern borders.

"We have instituted border controls but our border in the southeast is porous. Iyon ang dapat bantayan po kasi kung mayroon mang pumasok na mga Filipino Muslims from Sabah, from Malaysia or Indonesia at hindi po dumaan sa seaport, airport, eh 'yun po 'yung talagang kailangan mabantayan (We need to closely monitor those coming in from Sabah, from Malaysia or Indonesia, those who do not go through our seaports and airports)" Año said.

He said if alert levels would be raised due to Omicron, the mandatory wearing of face shields would be reimposed. (PNA)