(UPDATED) The Department of Health (DOH) has set deadlines for regional and local vaccine operations centers to inoculate at least 90 percent of the first three priority groups against coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) from June to August 2021.

DOH Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje announced the new targets in a press briefing Friday, July 9, 2021, as follows:
  • At least 90 percent of group A1 by end of June;
  • At least 90 percent of group A2 by end of July; and
  • At least 90 percent of group A3 by end of August.

The targets are 1,626,495 for A1 (health workers), 8,274,916 for A2 (senior citizens) and 7,085,183 for A3 (persons with comorbidities).

Cabotaje said they set these targets to ramp up vaccinations, especially among the A2 and A3, who have the highest risk of developing severe Covid-19, getting hospitalized and dying from the disease. The vaccination rate for senior citizens remain very low more than two months after they became eligible to receive the vaccine.

As of 6 p.m. of July 8, only 10.4 percent (861,560) of the A2 target have been fully vaccinated. A total of 2,632,861 have received at least one dose, but they comprise barely a third, or 31.8 percent, of the target.

For A3, only 14.6 percent (1,039,710) have been fully vaccinated out of the 3,184,933 who have received the first dose. Compared to the target, first dose inoculations constitute nearly 45 percent.

Nearly 100 percent of health workers under A1 have already been inoculated. Cabotaje said the target of inoculating at least 90 percent by end-June is expected to be reached.

Cabotaje said vaccination of A1 was suspended in May, but the category has been expanded to include outbound overseas Filipino workers, family members of health workers and newly hired health workers.

As of July 8, the government has administered the first dose to 161,959 individuals under the expanded A1. Of the total, 14,365 have also received the second dose.

Cabotaje said vaccination of priority groups A1, A2 and A3 is being conducted not only in the NCR Plus 8, but also in 10 other areas. Coverage will be expanded to at least two model cities per region.

The NCR Plus 8 is composed of the National Capital Region, Metro Cebu, Metro Davao, Batangas, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Pampanga and Rizal.

Per instruction of President Rodrigo Duterte to distribute the vaccines to other areas with increasing attack rates, the government expanded coverage to 10 cities, namely, Baguio, Tuguegarao, Naga, Legaspi, Bacolod, Iloilo City, Dumaguete, Zamboanga, Cagayan de Oro and General Santos.

To reach these targets, Cabotaje said the DOH held "Tutok A2" town hall sessions, and discussed with regional and local vaccine operations centers measures to ramp up vaccinations.

She said they have identified challenges such as difficulty in online registration. She also noted that some senior citizens need to be accompanied to the vaccination centers.

To encourage senior citizens to get the vaccine, they are no longer made to queue for their turn in some vaccination centers. Some local government units (LGUs) also allow walk-in senior citizens while others are conducting house-to-house and mobile vaccination campaigns.

Meanwhile, Cabotaje said they have advised vaccination centers to again set aside a second dose of the Sinovac vaccine for at least two weeks.

The DOH previously allowed vaccination centers in the NCR Plus 8 and other areas experiencing a surge in infections to use for first dose inoculations the Sinovac vaccines that were originally set aside as second dose.

"That was because they (Sinovac) initially assured that there would be weekly deliveries and we had a huge inventory since the interval is 28 days," Cabotaje said.

With the delay in shipments, however, Cabotaje said they have decided to revert to the previous policy of setting aside vaccines for the second dose. The next Sinovac shipment is delayed by two weeks and is expected to arrive only in the third week of July.

For the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines, Cabotaje said second doses have been set aside. For Sputnik V, its component I is purely for the first dose while component II is for the second dose.

The DOH also previously allowed the use of all AstraZeneca vaccines as first dose because of the surge in cases in March to April. Additional shipments have arrived in time for the second dose, Cabotaje said. The AstraZeneca viral vector vaccine is given in two doses up to 12 weeks apart. (Marites Villamor-Ilano / SunStar Philippines)