An elderly man receives his Covid-19 vaccine in Cavite. (PNA photo by Gil Calinga)

MANILA – The Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday reminded local governments to stick to the guidelines when giving the second booster shot against coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said there is no evidence yet that administering a second booster to the general public would increase their protection from respiratory illness.

Vergeire added that people who have recently received the fourth shot might not get the bivalent vaccine booster soon.

The official said the country is moving to secure the Omicron-adapted jabs, which contain components of the original virus strain and the Omicron variant for better protection against Covid-19.

"Isipin natin na tayo po ay bumibili na ngayon nitong bivalent vaccine (Remember that we're already securing the bivalent vaccine)," she said in a press briefing.

"Kapag dumating 'yong bivalent vaccine at nabigyan niyo ng second booster 'yong inyong mga kababayan ngayong time na ito, baka hindi pa rin sila maging eligible as soon for this bivalent kasi may number of months tayong bibilangin bago sila mabigyan (Once these arrive and you've already administer the second booster to your constituents at this time, they may not be eligible for bivalent as soon because we will count months before we could administer it)," she added.

She reiterated that the guidelines currently in place are "based on science and evidence".

But the DOH, she said, continues to work with experts so that it could start another rollout as soon as enough evidence that says a fourth shot would add protection to the general population has been gathered.

"We are bound with procedures which are based on the laws of the country. When we amend a recommendation or indication for a specific vaccine, we again go through FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and HTA (Health Technology Assessment Council)," she said.

At present, only individuals aged 18 to 49 years old with comorbidities and adults aged 50 and above are eligible for a second booster or fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

'Bakunahang bayan'

Vergeire, on the other hand, reported that low vaccine uptake remains a challenge in the vaccine rollout, causing expiration for millions of jabs.

The vaccine uptake improved in the latter part of 2021 but started to wane in the first quarter of the year, she said.

"Hindi natin maitago ng mas matagal ang mga bakuna natin... Almost lahat ng bakuna natin less than one year ang shelf life (We cannot shelve them for a long time... Almost all of our vaccine has less than one year of shelf life)," she said.
The DOH, for its part, continues to ramp up its vaccine and booster rollout for the eligible population.

On Dec. 5, the agency kicked off a three-day national vaccination campaign meant to increase protection for the pediatric population.

In a Laging Handa briefing, Vaccine Expert Panel chairperson Nina Gloriani advised the eligible population to get the vaccine as soon as possible given the emergence of new variants. (PNA)