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As immunity from Covid is found to wane faster than in most diseases, calls have intensified from both the medical and business sector for the government to allow second booster vaccinations for more Filipinos, specifically those 50 to 59 years old.
“Our medical experts are telling us that we experience waning immunity from Covid faster than we would from other diseases,” said Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion. “This means we really have to increase our first-booster vaccinations and allow more people to get their second boosters, especially our economic frontliners,” he said.
“This is unlike the other diseases before where immunity lasts years. This one lasts months only,” said Dr. Nina Gloriani in an interview last July 1. Dr. Gloriani is chairperson of the Vaccine Expert Panel of the Technical Working Group of the Department of Science and Technology, and among the medical experts providing guidance to the private sector under the Advisory Council of Experts (ACE). Among the issues being put forward by ACE are the effects of rising infections on the continued wearing of face masks. It also successfully backed the use of healthcare utilization rates as a more accurate metric in determining alert levels.
“The SARS CoV2 virus is very different from all the other viruses or microbial agents,” Dr. Gloriani said. The second booster vaccinations, she said, would benefit not only those who are immunocompromised but also those with comorbidities, which is common with middle-aged people. Current recommendations in the Philippines for second boosters covers only those 60 years and older, the immunocompromised, and healthcare workers.
Concepcion said that those falling in the 50 to 59 age range are still productive members of the workforce, yet may have comorbidities such as high blood pressure, making Covid a more dangerous disease for them. “They are exposed to the virus and are vulnerable, yet they do not have that extra layer of protection despite them contributing to our economic recovery,” he said.
Dr. Gloriani said that there is “very, very good data about the vulnerability of people who have a number of comorbidities.” She said in particular that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already allowed it for people 50 years old and above, referring to the CDC’s recommendation for second booster shots with Pfizer or Moderna vaccines for people over 50 years old. Data about safety of the second boosters, she observed, are good.
“I think they are considering here that people in this population, the 50 and above, also have a lot of comorbidities,” she said.
“Our FDA (Food and Drug Administration) should align with a country of reference, such as the US,” said Concepcion. “It would be easier rather than reinventing the wheel. The documents are easily accessible for the panel’s review.”
The renewed calls come amidst the rising number of infections in the Philippines, which Gloriani believes may be due the highly infectious Omicron subvariants BA.4, BA.5 and the BA 2.12.1, as well as waning immunity among the population. “We do not really know if these are new cases or reinfection,” she said.
Nevertheless, Dr. Gloriani emphasized that first boosters still need to be ramped up. “We still have to run after some 40 million people [who have not received their first boosters,” she said.
“It’s very clear already that we need three doses at least to protect us from waning immunity and give us broader protection against these variants of concern, especially the subvariants that are now circulating in the country,” she said.