News Release

OCTA fellow: PH attains ‘substantial population immunity’

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte presides over a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members before his talk to the people at the Arcadia Active Lifestyle Center in Matina, Davao City on December 6, 2021. TOTO LOZANO/ PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

The Philippines has attained substantial population immunity from natural infections and vaccinations in the urban areas based on current data, an OCTA Research fellow said on Monday.

During President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s weekly “Talk to the People”, Fr. Nicanor Austriaco Jr. noted that 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.

“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,” he said.

“And so the fact that the virus is struggling to find new Filipinos to infect, suggests that we have attained substantial population immunity.”

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 is that the Philippines, unlike these three other countries, had substantial waves of previous variants especially the Alpha and Beta, which struck the country in March and April of this year.

“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 — are now stable enough to prevent transmission,” said Austriaco, a priest and a molecular biologist.

The expert also advised Filipinos not to panic amid the threat posed by COVID-19 Omicron variant and instead move with caution, prepare and celebrate Christmas.

“We let us celebrate Pasko. This is the best time in 20 months for the entire country,” Austriaco said.

“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.”

Austriaco suggested that the country prepare its hospital infrastructure and increase healthcare workers staffing capacity, considering during the Alpha and Delta surges, the country had nursing shortages, especially in Metro Manila.

The government also has to continue vaccinating and boosting the immunity of its population especially senior citizens.

It must also strengthen population immunity around international gateways, he said, predicting that Omicron will likely enter the country through an airport. “And so what we have to do is we have to build a wall of vaccinated Filipinos around these airports.”

This was the rationale strategy for the NCR Plus 8, with the government heavily vaccinating the regions. Austriaco argued that even overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs) return home and enter the community, the virus will struggle to find hosts.

And despite the waning number of infections, he appealed to Filipinos to get immunized.

“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, it is still COVID-19,” he said.

“And we do not want to put ourselves and our beloved family members, especially our lolos and lolas into — we do not want to risk them, to risk their lives and their well-being and their livelihood, especially at this time.” PND