By Ali G. Macabalang
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Commission on Senior Citizens (NCSC) have urged local government units (LGUs) in the country to speed up the vaccination of priority groups, especially the elderly citizens amid increasing cases of COVID-19 variants called SARS-CoV-2.
As of 28 June 2021, 28.3% of the recorded 8.2 million senior citizens – the A2 priority group – have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Senior citizens are at highest risk of deaths due to COVID-19. In the Philippines, 7 out of 10 deaths are in patients 60 years old and above, according to a WHO-Philippines report.
“We strongly urge our LGUs to ramp up efforts to improve access of the elderly to vaccines, along with improving convenience at vaccination sites. Let us give our elderly the protection they need and the best quality of life they deserve without delay,” Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO-Philippines head, said in a virtual media briefing on July 1.
“Vaccines are an essential addition to our protective measures against COVID-19, especially with the risk of fast-spreading variants. We need to protect our senior citizens the soonest and with the highest coverage,” he added.
Focal vaccination efforts on those at greatest risk of severe disease or death will have the biggest immediate impact on saving lives, especially amid limited global supply of vaccines, the WHO said.
“Our senior citizens are the ones most likely hospitalized due to COVID-19. If we don’t protect our elderly, we run the risk of overwhelming our hospitals and overburdening our health workers and frontliners. We would again require further lockdowns, which are detrimental to the economy,” Dr. Abeyasinghe explained.
An overwhelmed health system can also lead to increased infections among healthcare workers and the inability to be responsive to severe COVID-19 cases and other health threats, the global health body said.
The WHO official was reportedly joined in the media briefing by NCSC Chairman Franklyn Quijano and Dr. Beverly Ho, director of Health Promotion Bureau and Disease Prevention and Control Bureau of the Department of Health.
“Vaccine confidence and access go hand in hand in making sure our senior citizens are well-protected,” Dr. Ho said.
Dr. Ho pointed out the need for support “in motivating our senior citizens to get their jabs, and thereafter facilitate access for those who have decided they want it,” saying the LGUs and civil society partners can provide great support.
She also urged vaccinated senior citizens or family members to become influencers in their own communities since they are the most credible endorsers that can attest to the safety of the vaccines.”
Health authorities have lauded vaccinated prominent citizens like Secretary Manny Piñol, chairman of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) for showcasing in social media channels their actual receipt of vaccine lately.
Sec. Piñol enjoys a great number of followers not only in Mindanao but across the country, they said.
NCSC Chair Quijano, for his part, said that “senior citizens often feel they are running out of time, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made this even more pronounced.”
“We thank and commend the LGUs who are succeeding at vaccinating older people faster, such as bringing vaccines closer to seniors via mobile clinics or house-to-house visits. These laudable endeavors bring us one step closer to being with our families again. We hope to see more LGUs showing more compassion by prioritizing our elderly as we get more vaccine supply,” Quijano said.
Meanwhile, variants of concern (VOC) have continued to spread and pose challenges across the world. The fast-spreading Delta variant, identified so far in at least 85 countries, has stretched health workers and health systems in countries with community transmission.
The country’s genomic biosurveillance has detected the Delta variant in 17 cases from May to June 2021, the WHO said, adding though that community transmission has not yet been documented. (AGM)