‘Vaccine optimism’ possible factor in PH infection surge, WHO official says

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Vaccine rollout in Davao City (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 19) — Optimism behind the vaccination program even with the limited supply may have led to lower compliance with health protocols resulting in more infections, an official from the World Health Organization said Friday.

Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Representative to the Philippines, calls it “vaccine optimism.”

After more than a year of quarantine restrictions, the vaccine rollout sparked “some optimism that finally we are going to see light in the end of the tunnel,” he said in an online media briefing.

“Small relaxation of people mingling more, going out more but that little bit contributes to the possibility of the virus transmitting and increasing in transmission,” Abeyasinghe said, noting that it is made possible by relaxed community quarantine measures.

He said this “phenomenon” has been observed in other countries, including those with massive inoculation drive.

“This is inconclusive, but this is what we are trying to understand and explain what is driving this transmission,” Abeyasinghe said.

On Friday, the country recorded 7,103 new COVID-19 cases – an all-time high since the local outbreak began, beating the 6,968 infections added on August 10. From mid-October until early March, the country was confirming around 1,000 to over 2,000 cases daily.

Abeyasinghe said the Philippine situation is a “very complex scenario,” but one that is not unique to the country. The WHO headquarters noted a “global increase in reported cases,” he said.


While the Department of Health said there's not enough evidence to conclude that the presence of new COVID-19 variants in the country caused the surge, Abeyasinghe said it may be another major factor in the dramatic rise in infections.

The country listed several cases of “variants of concern,” in particular those first discovered in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil which have been linked to higher transmissibility and so-called immune escape. Variant cases were detected in a number of regions, mostly in Metro Manila, epicenter of the local outbreak.

“The new variants are circulating in areas beyond where they have been confirmed,” Abeyasinghe said, again attributing the spread to increased mobility.

FAST FACTS: New coronavirus variants detected in PH

He said the WHO is monitoring the health care utilization rate, adding that an overwhelmed system would call for “more stringent quarantine measures.” Now more than ever, the public should be more vigilant and more compliant with health protocols, including the wearing of face masks and face shields and social distancing, Abeyasinghe said.

Health officials said even those vaccinated against COVID-19 still have to observe minimum health standards since the shots may not guarantee immunity, but are meant to prevent severe disease and death. So far, the country has 1.125 million doses of the Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines, which are allocated for medical frontliners.