Find unvaxxed, booster-eligible residents amid 1st BA.4 case: Año

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Local government units (LGUs) must proactively seek the unvaccinated and those eligible for booster shots against Covid-19 following the detection of an Omicron subvariant in the Philippines, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said Sunday.

If need be, local officials must go house-to-house and encourage vaccination, DILG Secretary Eduardo Año said in a news release on Sunday.

The Department of Health (DOH) confirmed on Saturday that a Filipino who arrived from the Middle East on May 4 was found to be infected with Omicron subvariant BA.4 after his positive test result was tested on May 8.

Citing the findings of the the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the DOH said BA.4 is a variant of concern as it can either spread faster or cause worse illness.

"BA.4’s faster transmission is likely because of its ability to evade immune protection induced by prior infection and/or vaccination, particularly if this has waned over time. While the ECDC has not observed any change in severity for BA.4 compared to other Omicron subvariants, we must be careful because faster transmission will lead to a spike in cases that could overwhelm our hospitals and clinics," the DOH said in a statement.

Año said LGUs must maximize their resources and scour their jurisdictions to urge the unvaccinated and booster-eligible population to avail of jabs “as a precautionary measure versus a more transmissible Omicron variant and possible community transmission”.

“We direct all LGUs to be proactive in their vaccination efforts and seek these people who are eligible for inoculation. The DOH detection of BA.4 signals the need for a more aggressive action to ensure that the people are vaccinated and protected against this highly contagious variant of Covid-19,” Año said.

Kailangan itong tiyagain ng mga pamahalaang lokal (The local government must work on this). Millions of Filipinos have been vaccinated months ago and that can work against our goal of protecting our people sapagkat itong BA.4 ay nakakalusot sa bakuna lalo na kung matagal nang naturukan (because the BA.4 can evade the vaccine’s immunity, especially those who were inoculated a long time ago),” Año said. 

LGUs must tap their established pandemic health units such as the Local Covid-19 Task Forces (LCTFs) and the Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs) to aid the efforts of vaccinating more individuals “avoiding spike of cases which can be detrimental to our health system”, according to Año.

The DILG directed LGUs to create LCTFs during the onset of the pandemic in 2020 to enable them to monitor and analyze Covid-19 data and to better address the issues and concerns of their constituents.  

LGUs were likewise directed to activate their BHERTs in 2020 to conduct visits in the homes of individuals possibly inflicted with Covid-19, initiate contact-tracing, and report on a daily basis the condition of prospective and confirmed cases, among others.

“The LGUs have the existing tools to help them in identifying their constituents who must be vaccinated. We hope na gamitin nila ito to their advantage para mas marami pa ang mabakunahan (they use their tools to their advantage and increase vaccination rate),” Año said.

DILG spokesperson Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya encouraged Filipinos to commit themselves to the vaccination program, whether it is their first time or for booster shots.

“We are not only protecting ourselves but are also contributing to the overall welfare of our nation,” Malaya said in the same news release.

He reminded the public to continue adhering to minimum public health standards “as these have greatly contributed to the recent decrease of Covid-19 cases in the country.”

He urged village volunteers to work with LGUs in identifying citizens eligible for vaccination, imploring them to enliven the bayanihan (cooperation) spirit to counter the spread of Omicron BA.4 variant.

The daily average of new Covid-19 cases in the National Capital Region increased by 19 percent from May 13 to 19 at 71, higher than the 59 logged from May 6 to 12, but still not enough to alarm health authorities.

The two-week growth rate in the region remains negative at minus 17 percent and its average daily attack rate is at 0.47 cases per 100,000 population as of May 19. (PR)