Philippines struggles to vaccinate elderly as few turn up for COVID jabs


MANILA: The Philippines is struggling to vaccinate its elderly population, the government said on Saturday, as fewer older people have been turning up to get their COVID-19 jabs than expected.

Health officials vaccinated less than 24,000 elderly citizens during the government’s three-day vaccination drive that ended on Saturday, lagging far behind its target of reaching more than half a million in the priority group.

Philippine officials are considering extending the campaign.

“Vaccination coverage for senior citizens is still low,” Philippine Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje said during a press briefing.

Though there have been efforts “to bring the vaccines closer to the people,” including a house-to-house drive, setting up vaccination stalls in malls and using churches as vaccination sites, the official said increasing advocacy is still needed.

“We need more innovative and creative strategies because we can see in our data that many still need to get their second dose and booster dose, especially among our senior citizens,” Cabotaje said.

About 64 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated so far, more than half of the country’s 110-million population. This week’s drive reached less than 45 percent of its total target of 1.8 million in all age groups, officials said.

The health department cited complacency among the reasons for vaccine hesitancy for elder citizens, who believe booster shots are not needed after getting their second dose, and who underplay coronavirus threats because cases have been decreasing in the Philippines.

“The second reason is that senior citizens think they will die anyway so getting vaccinated is useless,” Cabotaje said.

The official said that most unvaccinated senior citizens live in the Central Visayas and the Bangsamoro regions.

More than 60 percent of senior citizens have so far been vaccinated in the Philippines, according to the Department of Health.

Following an infection surge driven by the highly contagious omicron variant earlier this year, COVID-19 cases in the Philippines have continued to decline, with daily infections below 1,000 since March 2.