POSTSCRIPT / September 28, 2021 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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US easing entry rules on Sinovac vaccinees

FILIPINOS whose entry into the United States had been hamstrung by their having been inoculated with Chinese COVID-19 vaccines that are not recognized by US authorities may soon gain entry with the easing of vaccination requirements.

The general rule has been that the foreigner arriving in the US by air must have been fully inoculated with approved vaccines before boarding and must not have been in certain blacklisted places in the previous two weeks.

A problem for some Filipino travelers is that Chinese vaccines such as those made by Sinopharm Group and Sinovac Biotech Ltd. have not been given full credit by US authorities. But they could soon be, under new regulations being considered by Washington.

The Philippines, meanwhile, continues to take delivery of more vaccines as the administration races to vaccinated a smaller than 70 percent of the 110-million population by yearend to achieve a semblance of herd immunity.

Herd immunity refers to that stage when more than 70 percent of the population have gained immunity through vaccination or previous infections, thereby depriving the virus of enough human bodies to use to spread itself.

Realizing the difficulty of delivering on Duterte’s promised herd immunity by yearend, the administration has lowered its target, to as low as 50 percent, to achieve what it now calls “population protection”.

Three million more doses of Sinovac-CoronaVac vaccines arrived Sunday, pushing the country’s total inventory to 69,699,340 doses. A hundred million more doses of various brands are expected by the end of October, according to Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr.

As of Sunday, he said, 43,815,426 doses have been administered nationwide, of which 23,609,600 were first doses and 20,205,806 full vaccinations. Their number covers 26 percent of the targeted population, he said.

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NEWS of the deliveries came as the US government announced it was relaxing its entry restrictions on foreigners who had been inoculated with vaccines approved by the World Health Organization for emergency use. These include Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines.

The report may lessen the anxiety of Filipinos planning to travel to the US but had received Sinovac shots because that was the only brand available in most inoculation centers in the early stages of the mass vaccination.

Before the weekend, more than half (56 percent) of the Philippine vaccine inventory was still that of Sinovac, according to published statistics.

The plan to inoculate the 12-17-year-old group starting next month, meanwhile, may have to wait for messenger-RNA (mRNA) vaccines approved for that age group. Priority inoculation will be given to minors with comorbidities and to children of health workers.

The mRNA vaccines, such as Pfizer and Moderna, are different from the Chinese vaccines that use inactivated viral particles to expose the body’s immune system to the virus without risking a serious disease response.

A week before the new deliveries, the inventory was reported at 59,359,810 doses broken down into: Sinovac, 33,000,000; AstraSeneca, 9,595,440; Pfizer, 6,596,460; Moderna, 5,257,060; Jannsen, 3,240,850; Sinopharm, 1,100,000; and Sputnik V, 570,000.

Galvez said the latest Sinovac shipment will be deployed mostly to Region 4-A, Region 3, Region 6, Region 7, Region 11, Region 2, Region 1, and Region 9. Those to be used in Metro Manila will be for the second dose.

The government reported Thursday that the country has fully vaccinated 25.12 percent of the targeted population, or 19.37 million. Some 30.18 percent, or 23.28 million, have received the first of two shots, with now 42.65 million doses administered in total.

 US easing vax rules for visitors

THE White House has announced the easing of entry rules, possibly in November, for most foreign air travelers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the barring of those who have had no shots at all.

The new rules will tighten the ban on unvaccinated arrivals (except for returning Americans who must undergo quarantine) and replace restrictions on most foreigners who have been to specified places the previous two weeks, regardless of vaccination status.

The areas on the watch list are the United Kingdom, the European Schengen area, China, India, South Africa, and Brazil. The ban had angered many Europeans.

The travel and airline industries are awaiting the details of the new rules being worked out by the  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as they affect their business.

Under the upcoming system, travelers will show proof of vaccination before boarding and take a pre-flight COVID-19 test within three days of departure. They will also have to give a phone number and email address to the airline for contact-tracing in case infection is reported.

The drift appears to be toward considering people to be fully vaccinated if they have received the full course of a shot or two spaced shots authorized for emergency use by the World Health Organization.

A number of vaccines have been approved by the WHO, including those from AstraZeneca and Chinese developers Sinopharm Group and Sinovac Biotech Ltd.

If the US recognizes WHO’s approval of Sinovac and Sinoparm, as expected, Filipinos who have had two Sinovac doses would be considered as fully vaccinated and eligible for entry like other vaccinated travelers, assuming they satisfy the other usual requirements.

President Biden has been pushing for more global donations of vaccines to blunt criticism of US hoarding and its decision to proceed with booster shots despite the WHO’s urging rich countries to hold it off.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 28, 2021)

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