Experts worried of ‘mini’ COVID surge in BARMM amid low vaccination rate: Galvez

MANILA – Misinformation, the proliferation of anti-vaxxers on social media, and accessibility issues continue to hound the government’s COVID-19 inoculation program in the Bangsamoro region, where only 27.4 percent of people eligible for the jab are fully vaccinated, the country’s vaccine czar said on Tuesday. 

National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. told President Rodrigo Duterte that experts from the Department of Health (DOH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) warned him of a “mini” COVID-19 surge in the region, given the low vaccination coverage. 

Data from the National Vaccination Operations Center (NVOC) showed that only 27.4 percent of the 4.4 million eligible individuals there have been fully immunized against the coronavirus.

Galvez’ presentation to Duterte bared that BARMM is the lowest among the country’s 17 regions in terms of vaccination coverage.

“Isang pinakamalaking problema natin na binigyan tayo ng alarma at warning ng WHO, ito pong mababang vaccination sa BARMM,” Galvez said during Duterte’s taped address to the nation.

“Unang-una sa lahat, nag-set na tayo ng celebration ng Ramadan at natakot ang WHO at DOH na magkakaroon tayo ng mini-surge dito sa area ng BARMM dahil napakababa ng coverage,” he said. 

Some residents in the Bangsamoro supposedly believe that COVID-19 vaccines are not “Halal,” or permissible to the Islam faith, he said. The Philippine Halal certification Board has certified COVID-19 vaccines as such, according to the DOH.

Aside from these, Galvez said, fake news and misinformation discouraged some people in the region to get their coronavirus jabs, citing NVOC Chair Myrna Cabotaje’s observations.

“Also ‘yung cultural beliefs, maraming matatanda ang nagsasabi na buong buhay nila hindi sila nava-vaccinate and then ngayon papa-vaccinate sila… and also yung accessibility… kailangan nila ng bangka na malalaki,” he said.

“More or less 6 hours ang paglalayag sa dagat papunta sa mga area sa dulo ng ating mga island,” he added.

Galvez suggested that local government and national units should have more data encoders, vaccination teams, and social mobilizers to boost vaccination coverage. 

He also mentioned a proposal for all masjid and mosques to be turned into COVID-19 vaccination sites. Health authorities will deploy single-dose vaccines from Johnson and Johnson in the region for faster immunization, he said.

“During Friday, pagsamba ng ating mga kababayan na Muslim, gagawing vaccination sites itong mga mosques at masjids. Then social preparation, gagawin natin yan the whole month of ramadan,” he said. 

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, meanwhile, urged candidates in the upcoming elections to also campaign for COVID-19 inoculation, to help improve the country’s vaccination program. 

Duque noted how the government extended COVID-19 vaccinations in houses, clinics, and even public transport terminals, just to reach eligible people.

“Nananawagan ako sa mga kandidato na habang sila ay nangangampanya… ay ikampanya na rin nila ang bakuna. Ibig sabihin, napakamahalaga itong public health policy,” Duque said. 

“Dahil sila naman ay influencers sa kanilang mga komunidad, magandang ikampanya nila ang bakuna para whole-of-nation at whole-of-government approach tayo. Yun lang ang panawagan ko, kung pwede, ikampanya ninyo ang ating magandang national vaccination program.”

So far, 66.2 million people in the country have been fully inoculated against COVID-19, while 71.4 million others have received their partial dose.

More than 12 million people already got their boosters. 

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