Fully vaccinated elderly, immunocompromised still more vulnerable to COVID-19, says expert

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 16) — Senior citizens and people with comorbidities are still at risk for severe or critical infection even if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, an infectious disease specialist said Thursday.

"There are two possible risks that you will develop a more severe or critical (infection) even when the cell-mediated immune response is there. These are the elderly and those with comorbidities," Dr. Rontgene Solante, a member of the Vaccine Expert Panel (VEP), told CNN Philippines' The Source.

Solante explained that vaccinated people naturally develop a cell-mediated immunity which can protect them against the virus even after the efficacy of a COVID-19 vaccine wanes six to eight months following vaccination.

RELATED: Sinovac vaccine's efficacy vs Delta 'wanes' after 6 months — expert 

"That’s the cell mediated immune response, which I believe is the one holding us. Even if we get the infection, our risk of getting the more severe infection will still be low compared to not getting the vaccine," he said.

However, even if senior citizens and those with comorbidities are fully vaccinated, "their ability to mount a cell-mediated immune response...will still be not enough for them to be fully protected against severe and more critical case of the infection."

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III previously cited data showing a COVID-19 case fatality rate of 4.9% among people aged 50 to 80 years old.

Solante noted that even vaccinated health care workers who are immunocompromised still need to protect themselves better, especially if they are constantly exposed to COVID-19 patients.

The government has not yet given a go signal to receive booster shots in the Philippines.

Solante said members of the VEP have so far recommended giving Sinovac as third dose for fully vaccinated Filipinos. But they are still awaiting data on the efficacy of other brands that can be used as boosters.

RELATED: Experts waiting for data on other booster shots for Sinovac vaccinees