TAYTAY, RIZAL (20 December 2021) — The National Task Force Against COVID-19 called on local government units across the country to further intensify their COVID-19 response and mitigation efforts in light of the entry of the Omicron variant.

This developed as the Department of Health confirmed on Monday the third Omicron variant case in the country.

During a visit to a vaccination site in this municipality on Monday, chief implementer and vaccine czar Secretary Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. said the threat of Omicron should be taken seriously since the variant has already caused a huge uptick in cases in other countries.

“Nakikita na ‘yung Omicron maybe sabihin nating medyo mild, pero kapag dumami ang [cases], there is a possibility na tataas din ang deaths, hospitalization at severe cases considering that mao-overwhelm ang health services natin,” Galvez said.

“Sa mga LGU, i-revisit natin ‘yung ating immediate pandemic response. Mag-prepare tayo, ‘yung response natin in-scale. Idouble-up natin, tingnan natin ang quarantine facilities, hospitals, health workers,” he added.

Galvez also emphasized the need to continue expanding the COVID-19 vaccination drive as this will be the key in containing the virus and preventing local transmissions.

The vaccine czar announced that he already recommended to the Vaccine Expert Panel (VEP) to shorten the interval for booster shots to only three months, compared to the current recommendation of six months.

Presidential Adviser for COVID-19 Response Secretary Vince Dizon said the VEP might release its recommendation within the day or tomorrow.

“If we get the recommendation today or tomorrow, the FDA has committed to act on it quickly. So, within one day, makukuha natin ang revision ng EUA,” Dizon said.

“If that happens on Wednesday, we can start [the shorter interval for booster shots] on Thursday,” he added.

Impact of Odette in NVD, vaccination program

Meanwhile, the NTF officials said that tropical cyclone Odette, which has devastated major parts of the country, has also affected the conduct of the second National Vaccination Days (NVD).

Due to the impact of the typhoon on localities, the second NVD will be postponed in some regions including Regions 7, 8, CARAGA and some areas in MIMAROPA so that LGUs can focus on relief and rehabilitation efforts.

“Hindi muna natin sila pine-pressure na magbakuna dahil nga napakabigat nitong sinapit nila nitong mga nakaraang araw kaya bibigyan natin sila ng panahong maka-recover,” Dizon said.

“Pero nagmo-mobilize din tayo ng teams para sa areas na kayang [magbakuna], para pwede silang magbakuna sa mga evacuation centers. Pero i-prioritize muna natin ang relief, response at rehabilitation,” he added.

For his part, Galvez said the NTF is coordinating with the Department of Energy so the power supply can be restored in the affected areas.

“Nakikipagtawagan tayo kina Sec. Cusi, sa AFP at PNP, na unahin tingnan ‘yung ating warehouses para ma-sustain ang generator at ma-restore agad ang kanilang electricity,” he said.

Galvez also bared that 100 vials of Pfizer vaccines, which are equivalent to 600 doses, have been compromised due to the effects of the tropical cyclone.

“Noong nagsimula pa lang ang balitang darating ang Odette, nagbigay tayo ng guidance na magkaroon ng redundancy preparations for safekeeping of the vaccines,” he said.

“Sa ngayon, ang report sa Region 6, sa Iloilo, may ni-report na 100 vials na na-compromise at we are still investigating ‘yung magnitude ng damage,” Galvez added.

He also explained that before the tropical cyclone hit, many warehouses and hospitals had already transferred their vaccine supply to more secure facilities.

Meanwhile, Galvez admitted that it is now a challenge to hit the country’s target of achieving population protection by fully vaccinating 54 million Filipinos by year end due to the effects of the typhoon.

However, he and Dizon gave the assurance that the government will exert all efforts to achieve this target.

“Napakalaki talaga ng devastation kay Odette. Basically, talagang it’s a challenge for us to push for 54 million. But we are still pushing for it because the Omicron is our greater challenge,” Galvez said.

“We will try our best to hit the goal of 54 million. It’s not easy but we will keep on pushing. Give us a few days, we’ll give you what our estimated target should be by the end of the year,” Dizon said.

As of December 19, the Philippines has administered a total of 100,907,667 doses. Of this number, 43,534,136 individuals are already fully vaccinated. ###