Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion criticized the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) as it continues to drag its feet on the life-or-death issue of Covid vaccines, and even contradicting itself on its decision to give boosters to 12 to 17 year olds.

Concepcion raised the concern that the return of non-boostered children to in-person classes this August would expose those who have waning immunity to possible infection. “If these kids get sick, their parents will have to stay home and take care of them, and we will have one less productive person helping our economy recover. This is not counting the additional financial burden on their already-strained household budgets,” he said.

“This will have dire consequences on the country’s recovery,” said Concepcion. “I echo what the Advisory Council of Experts are saying: When you delay these boosters, you deny our country the chance to recover,” he said. “They are clearly not seeing the big picture here,” Concepcion added.

“Vaccine boosters delayed is prosperity denied,” stated the Advisory Council of Council of Experts (ACE). The group comprises some of the country’s foremost authorities on medicine, public health, economics, and research and data analytics, who provide guidance to the private sector on matters of public health and the economy.

“In a pandemic, we do not wait for the ‘hard evidence’ that we use for routine vaccines,” the group said. “We use the weight-of-evidence approach, which takes into consideration things like whole-of-society needs, vaccine deployment challenges at the ground level, age-related issues such as vulnerability versus schools being able to return to normal, the emergence of variants, and many other factors,” it said.

The group further stated that the National Vaccination Operations Center has been working hard to increase immunization coverage across the country, but that it cannot be helped that there will be remaining hesitancy and some slack in progress reaching its goals or targets.

“There is a point when we say, we’ll continue to strive boostering our A1, A2, A3 to higher levels, but we must start with others who clearly could benefit from it, especially since we have sufficient supplies, some or many even expiring,” it said.

Concepcion also criticized the HTAC for being slow. “These are not normal times. We are still in the middle of the pandemic. Why is the HTAC acting as if there is no urgency? Why is it using reasoning that is applied only with routine vaccines?”

The comments came after the HTAC set a requirement that Covid-19 booster vaccinations for non-immunocompromised 12 to 17 year olds could continue only when the adult population has reached 40 to 70 percent booster coverage, prompting the postponement of vaccinations that were to have rolled out last June 25.

“HTAC should become more reasonable,” Concepcion said over the Laging Handa Public Briefing last June 27, “May pasukan na this August at pumayag na sila noon.”

Concepcion has been appealing to the HTAC to listen to experts like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its guidance allowing those as young as 50 years old to receive second booster vaccines. Only healthcare workers, the elderly and immunocompromised are currently allowed to receive second boosters.

The private sector and the LGUs have expressed their desire to administer these vaccines to productive members of the workforce, some of whom are already in their 50s. It has been reported that millions of Covid vaccines remain in storage, with many nearing their expiry dates, under threat of adding to the stock that have already expired.

Concepcion added that HTAC’s inability to act decisively and within reason is putting more burden on the Department of Health and reflecting poorly on the country’s vaccination efforts. Moving forward, Concepcion  has recommended that the task of rolling out vaccines should be given to the Vaccine Expert Panel, and relegate non-critical tasks to the HTAC.

“Bakuna  ang pinaka-importante sa ating  recovery,” said Concepcion. “No one body, and certainly not a seemingly faceless council, should have that much power over our country’s future,” he said.

The ACE experts include National Task Force Against Covid-19 Special Adviser Dr. Teddy Herbosa, Covid-19 Technical Working Group Chairperson Dr. Nina Gloriani, Vaccine Expert Panel member Dr. Rontgene Solante, UP Manila Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Director Dr. Edsel Salvaña, Philippine College of Physicians President Dr. Maricar Limpin, health reform advocate Dr. Tony Leachon, OCTA Research fellows Dr. Michael Tee, Prof. Ranjit Rye, Dr. Guido David and Fr. Nic Austriaco; economist Romy Bernardo; and Go Negosyo senior adviser Josephine Romero.