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With fuel prices continuing to rise and more basic commodities to follow suit, Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion believes that in order for the country to survive this new crisis, it must first drop the mindset that it is still in the middle of a pandemic.
“The more pressing issue now is the health of the economy,” he said. “The situation has changed. Stagflation can become a reality at this point,” said the Go Negosyo founder, amidst fears over rising infection rates. “What we should be looking at are Covid hospitalizations, and not infection rates,” he said.
Infectious diseases expert and DOH Technical Advisory Group member Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvaña said, “Barring the emergence of a truly awful new variant, the economic cost of continuing to treat Covid-19 as a pandemic despite its now-decreased risk for death is unsustainable.”
Concepcion said continuing to limit people’s movement will not help, either. He expressed concern that making first booster vaccinations “mandatory or quasi mandatory,” as Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque has stated, might lead to people being required to present vaccination cards anew.
“I have been traveling abroad and, except for when you leave the country, no one checks for vaccination cards anymore at the shops, at the restaurants…” he said.
While Concepcion said he still supports booster vaccinations, having earlier pushed for the redefinition of a fully vaccinated status as having taken the primary doses and one booster shot, this was at a time when new variants were little understood and the gravity of the Russia-Ukraine crisis was not yet clear.
“It might be impractical at this point,” he said. “Booster vaccinations are so low that if you start requiring people to present vaccination cards that show they’ve been boostered, you will limit the number of people who can go out and enter establishments,” he said.
Vaccine Expert Panel member Dr. Rontgene Solante believes that people would have no interest in taking their booster shots unless it is made mandatory. Otherwise, “it will take another Delta-type of Covid to increase booster uptake,” said the infectious diseases expert.
Dr. Salvaña, meanwhile, believes that there is evidence Covid-19 is no longer as deadly as it once was. “Hybrid immunity seems to work better at preventing reinfection than infection-naïve vaccinated individuals. However, deaths remain low in either case since vaccine protection against severe Covid-19 is retained. Mortality trends are dropping despite recent record numbers of Covid-19 cases,” he said.
Both Concepcion and Salvaña believe hybrid immunity, plus the general positive attitude of Filipinos to wearing of face masks, add a layer of protection to the population, as evidenced by the low hospitalization rates despite slowing vaccinations.
“I think the discussion should now shift to pinning down a timeline to removing this state of emergency,” Concepcion said.
He had earlier suggested that the government now share the responsibility of vaccinations with the private sector and its citizens, eventually passing the vaccination costs to those who can afford it. “We should allow the individual to decide for themselves if they want to get vaccinated. I think we have done enough and they know already the consequences of being unvaccinated,” he said. Doing so, he explained, would allow the government to instead recalibrate its vaccination efforts and its resources to helping the marginalized sectors and the MSMEs.
Lifting the state of public health emergency would remove the Emergency Use Authorization of current Covid vaccines, and would prompt the pharmaceutical companies to apply for a Certificate of Product Registration (CPR) for their Covid vaccines in order for these to be available at drug stores.
Concepcion said Covid vaccines and drugs have already been in use during the pandemic. “AstraZeneca is confident in applying for a CPR, and because they’ve been shown to be equal in effectiveness to MRNA vaccines, I don’t see any reason the other manufacturers can’t be given a CPR ,” he said.
Public support has also been growing for a return to a life before the public health emergency. In a poll conducted last week on Go Negosyo’s Facebook page, more than 16,000 users agreed to the lifting of the alert level system in the country, while only a little over 1,000 opposed it.