PH govt eyes vaccinating kids, teens by September amid Delta variant threat

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 9) — The government is looking to expand the country's COVID-19 vaccination program to include children and teenagers after seeing how they are impacted by the more transmissible Delta variant.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. on Sunday said the target is to be able to vaccinate minors aged 12 to 17 by the end of September or October.

"We proposed really to the NITAG (Interim National Immunization Technical Advisory Group for COVID-19 vaccines) and to our experts that we have to include children as soon as possible considering that they will be also vulnerable, particularly those children with comorbidities," Galvez said after he welcomed the arrival of 326,400 Moderna doses.

He said India, which was severely hit by the Delta variant in May, has seen a disturbing increase of COVID-19 cases in children.

The official also raised the alarming situation at the Philippine General Hospital as the feared variant is detected in all localities in Metro Manila.

"We have seen in PGH, the three critical there, dalawa doon ang may comorbidites," Galvez said. "Also, nakikita natin very vulnerable ang ating mga bata dahil nakikita natin di pa sila gaano kalakas ang kanilang resistensya in terms of pulmonary diseases."

[Translation: The three children in PGH that are under critical, two of them have comorbidities. They are vulnerable because their resistance to pulmonary diseases has not been built up yet.]

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The country is currently vaccinating individuals aged 18 and above.

Pfizer is the only vaccine manufacturer to receive a regulatory approval to use their COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 years old.

The Food and Drug Administration is also studying the application of Sinovac to administer the vaccines for the 3 to 17 age group.

The Department of Health believes it is not yet the right time to vaccinate the younger population since the vaccine supply in the country remains unstable. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said adults, such as the elderly, people with comorbidities, and essential workers, are still the sectors most vulnerable to getting severe COVID-19.

"Kapag tinignan ang supplies natin ngayon ay hindi pa talaga sapat, we still have that unstable supply na hindi pa kayang bakunahan ang rest of the adult population. Para mas malaki ang impact ng gagawin nating bakunahan, ating pina-prioritize muna," she said in a media briefing on Monday.

[Translation: Our supply is still limited and unstable so we cannot vaccinate the entire adult population yet. To maximize the impact of our vaccination, we need to set prioritization guidelines.]

Galvez said they are looking to procure an additional 26 million vaccines for the 12-15 age group.

Jaime Montoya, executive director of the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, also told CNN Philippines that further studies are needed to ascertain the safety and efficacy of administering COVID-19 vaccines to children.

"I-weigh po natin 'yung risks at benefits base sa mga datos na available sa ating bansa at sa ibang bansa rin po," he said.

[Translation: Let's weigh the risks and benefits based on data available here and in other countries.]

Montoya said this includes reviewing the possibility of including minors with comorbidities in the priority groups for vaccination.