Health Secretary Francisco Duque III is pushing for vaccination cards to have expiry dates, as he cited the waning immunity provided by COVID-19 jabs.
Speaking to “The Chiefs” on Cignal TV’s One News Tuesday night, June 7, Duque said he believes that expiration dates should be indicated on the vaccination cards, just like what is being done in other countries like Singapore and Israel.
“The expiry dates will depend on brands and the experiences of countries (implementing it),” he said, adding that this is also a strategy to encourage individuals to get their booster doses.
“We have to push for booster shots and it is the best time to do it when there is no surge. Cases are really low and it’s leading people into complacency,” he said.
As of June 5, the Department of Health (DOH) recorded 2,479 active COVID-19 cases nationwide. “I do not understand the continuing complacency on the part of the people,” Duque said, as he reiterated that wearing masks is another indispensable component of fighting COVID-19.
Now that the elections are over, maybe they can reconsider this again.
“Masking really contributed a great deal to our (defense against COVID-19),” he said. “I think masking is the biggest differentiator. It is our main asset in this pandemic.”
‘Mandate first booster’
Duque also wants local government units (LGUs) to pass ordinances requiring first booster shots in public transportation and in commercial establishments.
Duque said he broached the idea of mandating the first booster shot with Congress two months ago, but legislators “were not receptive to the idea.” “Now that the elections are over, maybe they can reconsider this again. Earlier they did not like that because it was elections,” he said of the “no vaccination, no ride” policy for public transport and the “no vaccination, no entry” in malls and other establishments.
The health chief stressed that these policies had driven vaccination coverage up in the past and that LGU executives might now “want to look back and see how they were able to wrap up their vaccination coverage of their constituents” by pushing booster coverage.
He told The Chiefs that it is important for all eligible individuals to get their booster shots now because of the waning immunity of the vaccines and the emergence of new Omicron sub-variants which are more contagious.
‘Build on gains’
On Wednesday, June 8, Duque told the “Kapihan sa Manila Bay” media forum that the next administration should continue the successful health programs implemented under the Duterte presidency and build on the gains of the current pandemic response.
The next administration should see wisdom in what we have in terms of improving access to booster dose.
While president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has not yet named the next health chief, Duque said: “We are ready to present the transition plan and what challenges the next administration must pursue.”
“The next administration should see wisdom in what we have in terms of improving access to booster dose,” he told the Kapihan.
Confidently, Duque also told The Chiefs the night before that the next administration would benefit from “the breadth and depth of experience and knowledge that we were able to put together in our pandemic journey.”
“The transition plan is pretty much in place,” he said. “They won’t be groping in the dark. We already have a playbook.”
“I think the challenge for the next administration is to ramp up the booster shots,” he said, citing that only 14 million Filipinos have gotten their first booster shots out of the 71 million who have completed their primary series of vaccination.
“That’s the work that is going to be cut out for the next administration,” he said.
For his part, National Task Force against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. said the government could fully vaccinate over 70 million Filipinos before President Duterte’s term ends on June 30.
“Our best-case scenario is that before the end of the administration, we see an honest-to-goodness assessment of individuals with at least one dose, we are 75 million and then our fully vaccinated is 70,087,920,” said Galvez, based on the current jab rate reported by the National Vaccination Operations Center (NVOC).
The government’s original target was to vaccinate 70 million Filipinos, but this was raised to 90 million due to the emergence of new COVID-19 variants. The country’s vaccine czar emphasized that the World Health Organization (WHO) has cited the Philippines for having a “good rollout of vaccination.” “We are confident that the incoming administration will build upon these developments, sustain the government’s vaccination efforts and effectively lead the nation to the new normal,” he said.
Universal health care
The outgoing DOH secretary also underscored the need for the Marcos administration to pursue the implementation of the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law, particularly expanding primary care health services.
Speaking at the Kapihan, Duque also recommended to the incoming leadership to further expand the National Patients Navigation and Referral Center as well as the Telemedicine program of the DOH. He admitted the implementation of UHC suffered delay due to the pandemic.
But in his interview with The Chiefs, he said the implementation of four of the UHC’s five provisions was “accelerated” by the pandemic response. Among these are the strengthening of epidemiology and surveillance and primary care services. As to his possible successor at the DOH, Duque said he has heard some names being recommended and he would vouch for them. “They are all qualified and have a good track record in public service,” he told the Kapihan.
He said his message to the new health chief is to improve on the DOH’s effective and successful programs of the past six years, learn “from our mistakes” and address the gaps. – With Mayen Jaymalin, Jose Rodel Clapano
(This story first appeared in One News)