Govt mulls over easing restrictions for Filipinos vaccinated vs. COVID-19

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The government is studying the possibility of adopting a strategy used by Israel to increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake, which is relaxing protocols for those already inoculated, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. says.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 6) — In a move to increase vaccine uptake among Filipinos, the government is studying the possibility of relaxing protocols for those already inoculated against COVID-19.

According to National Task Force against COVID-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., this strategy is used by Israel — which is among the leading nations in terms of pandemic response — to encourage more citizens to get their anti-coronavirus shot.

The method works, he said, by allowing increased mobility and gradual “return to normalcy” of vaccinated individuals, while those who have not received a jab yet will still need to follow quarantine protocols. For instance, the Israeli government has allowed those who have completed their shots to attend public events and travel to some countries.

The Middle Eastern country also no longer requires the wearing of face masks after more than half of its population have been immunized.

“We will study and look at the lessons learned by Israel and hopefully apply those in the Philippines,” Galvez said.

READ: Lessons from Israel's COVID-19 pandemic response

The NTF official has also backed local government units providing incentives for residents' vaccination. These come in different forms, such as free rice and raffle prizes, with a cow even being floated as a reward.

“With the help of all sectors, unti-unti nang tumataas ang public uptake [public uptake is gradually increasing],” he said. “We started with only 32% and now we are reaching 60% to 80%, and with more aggressive efforts such as house-to-house campaigns, barangay town hall meetings, and tapping household advocates, tataas pa ‘yan [that will still further increase].”

He also said three experts from the Israeli Ministry of Health are scheduled to arrive in the country on June 20 to share technical expertise on how to enhance the national immunization drive. Besides ways to boost vaccine confidence, discussions are expected to include strategies on deployment of highly sensitive doses and mechanisms to better facilitate the transition to the new normal.

More than three months after the Philippines began its vaccine rollout, 5.3 million doses have been administered to around 4.08 million people as of June 2, including nearly 1.3 million who have already received their second shot.