MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines may have already attained “substantial population immunity” to COVID-19 amid decreasing number of coronavirus infections recorded in the past few weeks, an OCTA Research fellow said.
In his report to President Rodrigo Duterte during the pre-taped public address aired late Monday, OCTA Research fellow Nicanor Austriaco said the country had the highest mobility levels in the past 20 months and experienced the lowest levels of cases and hospitalizations during the same period even with the presence of the COVID-19 Delta variant.
Delta is said to be the most contagious variant of COVID-19.
“And so what these three mean together is that it suggests that we have attained substantial population immunity from natural infections and vaccinations in the urban areas of the Philippines because the pandemic has raged and spread primarily in our cities and in our first class municipalities,” Austriaco said.
“And so the fact that the virus is struggling to find new Filipinos to infect, suggests that we have attained substantial population immunity,” he added.
Comparing the Philippines with its three neighbors in Southeast Asia, Thailand and Malaysia still haven’t seen dip in cases despite having much earlier surges and the two nations are still experiencing 5,000 cases per day.
Vietnam, he said, also had a Delta peak. Unfortunately, Delta has resurged and Vietnam is still experiencing significant numbers of COVID-19 at 15,000 or so every day.
The difference, Austriaco noted, is that the Philippines had substantial waves of previous variants especially the Alpha and Beta, which struck the country in March and April of this year unlike these three other countries.
“And so combining the vaccinations and the natural immunity, what you are seeing here is that many of our cities where the pandemic tends to focus, are now stable enough to prevent transmission,” he said.
The OCTA Research fellow also advised Filipinos not to panic amid the threat posed by COVID-19 Omicron variant, and instead move with caution in celebrating the holidays.
“And so this is not the time to panic. It is the time to be careful. We have to prepare. But we also have to celebrate especially since this is Christmas,” he said.
Austriaco suggested that the country prepare its hospital infrastructure and increase healthcare workers staffing capacity, as he noted reports on nursing staff shortages in Metro Manila during the Alpha and Delta surges in the country.
The government also has to continue vaccinating and boosting the immunity of its population especially senior citizens, he added.
He likewise suggested the strengthening of population immunity around international gateways as the Omicron variant will likely enter the country through an airport.
The Omicron, which was recently classified as variant of concern by the World Health Organization, has not yet been detected in the Philippines.
“I must urge you to get vaccinated because Omicron, when it arrives in the Philippines, will find every unvaccinated Filipino. And you will get sick, and even though it is mild, it is still COVID-19,” he said.
The Philippines has so far fully vaccinated more than 38 million Filipinos against COVID-19.
Since March, the government has administered 91.7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses – more than 56 million of this number was given as first doses.