Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion said that all signs seem to be pointing to one fact: Filipinos are learning to live with Covid.
Based on data from the National Covid-19 Vaccination Dashboard, vaccination rates hardly moved in the past month, with only 18.1 million booster vaccinations administered despite the 71.5 million people who are eligible for it. “While we will continue to encourage our citizens to take the boosters, it still is a challenge,” said Concepcion.
OCTA Research fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, OP, believes that it would be incorrect to dismiss low booster rates as mere complacency. “The Filipino people appear to have moved beyond vaccines,” he said, adding that people are now weighing how much risk is acceptable to them. “They see people around them with mild illness, and they appear to have concluded that the cost of getting a booster is greater than the risk of getting sick with mild Omicron COVID-19” he said.
Concepcion, meanwhile, observed that the preferred use of antigen testing may also be contributing to the underreporting of cases. “I believe more people are infected but most are not reporting the cases anymore since antigen testing is what is used more often,” he said.
He said that this may also be contributing to low booster uptake because those who are being infected do not bother to take boosters anymore. “Omicron will act as a booster for those who get it,” said Austriaco, going so far as to say that he believes natural infection is significantly better than the Omicron booster that is being rolled out in the United States because there is significant data that shows that natural immunity is more robust than vaccine immunity. Nonetheless, Austriaco still adds: “We should still try to avoid illness when we can. Get a booster!”
Hybrid immunity, or immunity from both vaccination and infection has been cited as one of the reasons for the relatively low incidences of Covid deaths compared to this time last year, when as many as 2,170 deaths were reported within a single week. The DOH’s Covid-19 tracker reported 108 deaths from August 18 to 24, though it cautions that the figure may not be final as reporting catches up with the tally.
As for easing outdoor masking mandates, Concepcion said he supports Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary. Benhur Abalos’s willingness to see how Cebu City will fare in its attempt to lift outdoor masking requirements. “I feel outdoor masking should be optional. It allows Filipinos to manage their risks,” said Concepcion.
Concepcion is now looking at mitigation as a strategy, and believes that stocking up on antiviral pills like Molnupiravir and Paxlovid would be the more practical move. “People are starting to get together, to go out, return to normal activities, and some of them will get infected,” he said.
Concepcion said that the country cannot afford vaccination mandates as the focus has now shifted to nursing the economy back to health. “The economy at this time is the biggest priority, with the rising prices and interest rates our consumers and MSMEs will be affected. Consumer spending cannot wane because our GDP will be affected,” he said.
Austriaco, on the other hand, thinks that there must be a deadline for people to avail of the free vaccines, possibly motivating them to be boostered immediately. At the same time, Austriaco also suggests that it might be time to remove mandatory masking for outdoor situations. “Only have them on public transportation and health care facilities. Yes, this will allow some Omicron spread but in light of the decision of many Filipinos not to get boosted, it is better to allow for Omicron illness among those whose immunity is waning now to strengthen population immunity rather than to face a possible deadlier variant in six months that could kill more people,” he said.
Concepcion said other strategies will depend on whether or not President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. follows through with his plan to extend the State of Public Health Emergency until end-2022. “This will affect how the new vaccines will be purchased. If the manufacturers are able to secure Certificates of Product Registration for their vaccines and sell these through drug stores or we continue with an Emergency Use Authorization, all this must be cleared soon once the President makes his decision,” said Concepcion.