The Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday said the vaccination of minors  would start once the adequate coverage of the A2 priority group or senior citizens has been achieved nationwide and vaccine supply becomes sufficient to include children.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire has confirmed that pediatric vaccination will start among 12 to 17 year olds with comorbidities as part of Priority Group A3. The target start of inoculation is by October, she said.

This, as Vergeire also said in an online media forum that senior high school students who will attend face-to-face classes would not be required to get their Covid-19 shots.

Vergeire said that after the order of President Duterte on the inoculation of minors, the DOH has started to undertake a study on the planned rollout of vaccines for children.

Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje, in a television interview, revealed the DOH has selected the National Capital Region (NCR) as the pilot vaccination site for minors since many members of the priority sectors like health-care workers in the region have already been fully vaccinated. 

“Our target is to start [the vaccination of minors] on Oct. 15,” Cabotaje said.

The chair of the National Covid-19 Vaccination Operation Center (NVOC) said the initiative would cover those who are aged 12 to 17 years old.

“For the initial run, we recommend that children with co-morbidities will be vaccinated in selected sites with clearance from their pediatricians or trained doctors, or for far-flung or Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas (GIDA), with clearance from on-site trained physicians guided by a checklist from the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines (PIDSP),” Vergeire said.

The DOH noted that considering that the risks of contracting severe Covid-19 infection or dying from Covid-19 is significantly lower for healthy children, it follows that the benefits from vaccination relative to the risk of a healthy child is also lower, compared to a sick child, adult or senior citizen.

“Like what our DOH All Expert Group has always emphasized, even if we have approved the recommendation to vaccinate children with comorbidities, we still have to increase our vaccination coverage among other priority groups, especially our senior citizens,” Vergeire said.

In finalizing the guidelines, the DOH is ensuring that (1) informed consent by the parent /guardian and child prior to vaccination will be obtained; (2) supply availability of Pfizer and Moderna, the only vaccines with emergency use authorization for 12 to 17 years old issued by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration; and more importantly, (3) equitable access to medical clearance by a physician for children with co-morbidities.

“We have to ensure that children have equitable access to vaccines. Eventually, as we get more local experience, we will be able to retool our current vaccinators on the additional precautionary steps on screening and vaccine administration,” Vergeire said.

The DOH further called on all those eligible among the adult population to get vaccinated and get the additional protection that vaccines offer to also protect children who cannot be vaccinated as of this time.

“Covid-19 vaccines continue to offer the protection they promised against severe Covid-19 and deaths, but we have to remember to still adhere to the minimum public health standards as we may still get infected or infect others,” said Vergeire. 

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