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PH ready if WHO lifts COVID-19 global health emergency —Vergeire

The Philippines is ready should the World Health Organization (WHO) declare an end to the global health emergency due to COVID-19, Department of Health (DOH) officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said Tuesday.

Based on a Reuters report, the WHO Emergency Committee is set to meet on January 27 to consider whether COVID-19 still represents a global emergency, three years after the pandemic was declared.

Vergeire said that if the state of public health emergency is lifted, the country will remain "cautious and vigilant" against the coronavirus and will still be imposing the same restrictions.

“If and when the public health emergency will be lifted, we know that the virus will be here to stay. The Philippines will continue to be cautious and vigilant and we will still be imposing these same restrictions we have right now which is not so much strict, but nandiyan ‘yung safeguard natin [the safeguards are there] that any time the cases will increase, we have our safeguards that we can rely on and we can impose para mas protektado ang Pilipino [so Filipinos will be more protected],” she said.

“Kung saka-sakaling ma-lift ang public health emergency, ang Pilipinas po, through the national government, ay nakahanda at patuloy na naghahanda para mas ma-proteksyunan natin ang ating mga kababayan,” she added.

(In the event that the public health emergency is lifted, the Philippines, through the national government, is ready and continues to prepare so that we can better protect our countrymen.)

In December 2022, the WHO expressed hope that COVID-19 would no longer be a global health emergency at some point in 2023. It also urged China to share information that could pinpoint how the pandemic started.

Vergeire earlier backed this, saying she was very hopeful that the state of public health emergency due to COVID-19 would come to an end in 2023.

She also stressed that despite the eased restrictions, the COVID-19 situation in the country remains manageable.

The DOH had earlier recommended to the Office of the President a further extension of the state of calamity in the country due to COVID-19. 

However, President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. said he was not keen on prolonging the state of calamity, adding that it was the "wrong mindset" with which to welcome the New Year.

Bivalent vaccines

In the same press conference, Vergeire also allayed concerns about the potential effects of the bivalent COVID-19 jabs.

While the risk will always be there when it comes to vaccines or any other health technology, it does not necessarily mean that they will cause harm, she said.

“Nakita natin sa almost two years of vaccinating our population, napakababa ng adverse reactions natin sa mga bakuna. It is just less than 1%,” Vergeire said.

(We have seen in almost two years of vaccinating our population that adverse reactions to vaccines are very low. It is just less than 1%.)

“Itong mga lumalabas na ganito, we take it with a grain of salt. Of course, it is considered. We will monitor properly itong mga babakunahan natin kung sakali dumating na yung bivalent dito sa atin. Pero hindi ito dapat maging balakid para matanggap ng ating mga kababayan ang kinakailangan nilang bakuna para ma-prevent ang severe and critical complications of COVID-19,” she said.

(We take these reports with a grain of salt. Of course, it is considered. We will properly monitor those we will vaccinate once the bivalent vaccines arrive. But this shouldn't stand in the way of our citizens getting the vaccine they need to prevent the severe and critical complications of COVID-19.)

Before the year 2022 ended, Vergeire disclosed that the Food and Drug Administration had already issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the bivalent vaccines of Moderna and Pfizer.

The DOH plans to make bivalent vaccines available in the country by the first quarter of 2023. —KBK/VBL, GMA Integrated News