PASIG CITY — In response to the continued surge in COVID-19 cases in the National Capital Region (NCR), the government is recalibrating its immunization program wherein it will focus limited vaccine supplies in areas with high infection rates such as the NCR and nearby provinces.

In an online press briefing on Tuesday, April 6, Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr, Chief Implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19 and Vaccine Czar said that building herd immunity in high-risk areas such as Metro Manila could address the spike in local transmissions.

According to Galvez, this approach was proposed by medical experts during recent consultations spearheaded by the Task Force.

He pointed out that inoculating at least five million individuals in Metro Manila will jumpstart the process of achieving herd immunity and will enable the government to offset slippages in vaccine deliveries.

“Sa ngayon, nakikita natin na ‘yung target na herd immunity of 70 million, with slippage of [vaccine] production, most probably baka bumaba tayo ng 50% [entire PH population],” he said.

“Mas maganda sa focus areas tayo para just in case magkaroon tayo ng slippage [vaccine delivery], kailangan ‘yung mostly affected areas, economic centers, at vulnerable areas ‘yung tirahin natin,” Galvez added.

Aside from the NCR, the Vaccine Czar said the government will also prioritize the vaccination of residents in other high- risk areas throughout the country such as Region IV-A, Region III, Cebu, Region VI, Region IX and the Davao Region.

Vaccine supply

Galvez bared that as of April 6, the government has confirmed the arrival of two million doses of anti-COVID 19 vaccines.

Of this figure, he said that 1.5 million doses will come from Sinovac and 500,000 doses from Gamaleya. Both vaccine brands are expected to arrive by mid-April.

Galvez gave the assurance that vaccines delivered to the country will gradually increase by May and June, as the government has already finalized four supply agreements with vaccine makers.

He said Sinovac and Gamaleya will deliver two million vaccine doses each in May, while Moderna will ship out 194,000 doses to the country in the same month.

By June, Galvez said a total of 10.5 million doses of Sinovac, Gamaleya, Novavax, and AstraZeneca are expected to arrive.

Galvez noted that many countries, especially those who are not capable of producing their own vaccines, continue to face challenges in securing supplies.

He said that even China-based Sinovac may not be able to deliver the Philippines’ original order of two million doses for the month of April because of China’s local demand.

Galvez said that suppliers to the COVAX facility are also experiencing delays in their production and delivery schedules.

World Health Organization Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe previously said that due to global supply constraints, the delivery of vaccines from COVAX for the month of April will be delayed and may even come in smaller quantities as compared to what the facility originally committed to beneficiary countries.

Last month, COVAX confirmed that a total of 979,200 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines will be delivered to the Philippines by the first week of April.

Galvez, however, remains optimistic that the global demand for anti-COVID vaccines will begin to ease up by the third quarter of this year as developed countries, which are also vaccine producers, have completed inoculating their citizens.

As of April 5, a total of 855,457 Filipinos, mostly healthcare workers, senior citizens, and with comorbidities individuals have been vaccinated.

Support to healthcare workers

Galvez also bared the government’s plan to allocate more living quarters for healthcare workers based in the NCR, as it is now making arrangements with hotels and other lodging service providers.

He said the NTF is currently negotiating for more than 200 rooms that would house doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers from the Philippine General Hospital, Lung Center of the Philippines, National Kidney and Transplant Institute, and East Avenue Medical Center.

“Ina-assure po namin na tutulungan ng gobyerno ang ating affected na mga healthcare workers. Magpro-provide tayo ng support para ma-ease up ang kanilang pressure,” said Galvez.

He commended the country’s healthcare workers for their unwavering dedication to attend to COVID-19 patients despite the high risk of being infected.

In an earlier presser, Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary and Isolation Czar Mark Villar announced that the Quezon Institute Modular Hospital, which is equipped with 110 beds for severe COVID-19 cases, also features 64 rooms for healthcare workers.

Villar said that the facility is now fully functional and comes with a lounge, as well as other amenities and services.

The Quezon Institute Modular Hospital was opened on Tuesday, April 6.

Risk-based and targeted testing

Meanwhile, NTF Deputy Chief Implementer and Testing Czar Secretary Vivencio Dizon underscored that the government’s policy on COVID-19 testing remains to be risk-based and targeted.

Dizon said that as the government intensifies its testing efforts, this will be complemented by fast contact tracing as well as immediate isolation in order to effectively manage and control the spread of the virus.

He said that after placing the NCR Plus Bubble under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the IATF has approved the use of additional 30,000 antigen test kits per day in the area including the provinces of Batangas and Pampanga.

“Napakaimportante nito [antigen tests] dahil mabilis nating malalaman kung sino ang nagpositibo at dahil doon ang LGU ay mabilis na makakapag-isolate at dahil din doon, ang mga ospital ay mabilis ding matre-treat ang mga pasyente,” Dizon said.

As of April 5, the Philippines has conducted 10,421,636 COVID 19 tests. ###