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Philippine vaccine experts' decision on boosters may be out next week —official

The Vaccine Expert Panel (VEP) of the Department of Science and Technology may come up with a decision on the administration of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots next week, an official said Friday.

Dr. Nina Gloriani of VEP said experts are constantly discussing the possible administration of booster shots and "many things are being considered."

"By next week baka meron na tayong maging desisyon diyan [By next week we may have a decision regarding that]," Gloriani said in a radio interview when asked regarding their ongoing study amid Thailand's reported decision to allow booster shots.

"Tuloy-tuloy naman yung aming pag-uusap pero maraming kino-consider [Discussions are ongoing and many things are being considered]," she added.

Should booster shots be allowed, Gloriani said healthcare workers will be again prioritized.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire confirmed that the All Experts' Group for COVID-19 Vaccines, which includes the VEP, would convene next week to decide on the recommendation that will be given to the Secretary of Health and the pandemic task force as regards the use of booster shots.

In an online briefing on Friday, Vergeire recalled that the VEP has verbalized that booster shots can be administered to medical workers and immunocompromised individuals. However, inputs from other experts should also be taken into consideration, she said.

These include the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC), National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG), National Adverse Events Following Immunization Committee (NAEFIC), and the DOH Technical Advisory Group (TAG).

"When we have discussed this, although the Vaccine Expert Panel finds na maaari na for healthcare workers and immunocompromised pero sa kabuuang desisyon ng all experts hindi pa rin because of the equity component and pangalawa wala pang masyadong kumpletong ebidensiya to say na itong booster doses will give us the needed protection para sa ating mga kababayan," Vergeire said.

[When we have discussed this, although the Vaccine Expert Panel finds that booster shots can now be administered to health workers and immunocompromised, the decision at the time however was not to go ahead with it because of the equity component and limited evidence to prove booster doses will give us the needed protection for our citizens.]

Vergeire said there was also a recommendation to procure second-generation vaccines that offer better protection against the virus, especially with the presence of more transmissible variants.

"In any case lahat po ng ito ay pinag-aaralan. Hindi sarado ang ating pintuan para sa mga ganitong pag-aaral," she said.

[In any case, these are all being studied. We never close our doors to these studies.]

Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., the country's vaccine czar, earlier said the government is negotiating with four manufacturers for the supply of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.

Galvez did not identify the manufacturers, although he said Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac is willing to donate 500,000 booster doses for medical workers.

Galvez said they are just waiting for the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group, and VEP.

The Duterte administration has requested for standby authority from Congress to buy P45.367 billion worth of booster doses next year. — with Virgil Lopez/KBK/RSJ, GMA News