THE country's vaccination campaign has stalled during the past month, with only 18.1 million booster shots administered despite the 71.5 million people who are eligible, Go Negosyo founder Jose Ma. "Joey" Concepcion 3rd said, citing the figures from the National Covid-19 Vaccination Dashboard and adding that the government has a formidable task ahead of it.

"While we will continue to encourage our citizens to take the boosters, it still is a challenge," said Concepcion.

The former presidential adviser for entrepreneurship said the low turnout could also be due to the preference for antigen testing, which has contributed to the underreporting of cases.

"I believe more people are infected but most are not reporting the cases anymore since antigen testing is what is used more often," he said.

This could also be a reason for the low booster uptake, since people who are being infected do not bother to have boosters shots, Concepcion said.

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OCTA Research fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco said it is incorrect to attribute low booster rates to complacency.

"The Filipino people appear to have moved beyond vaccines," Austriaco said. People are now weighing how much risk is acceptable to them, he said.

"They see people around them with mild illness, and they appear to have concluded that the cost of getting a booster is greater than the risk of getting sick with mild Omicron Covid-19," he said.

Hybrid immunity, or immunity from both vaccination and infection, has been cited as one of the reasons for the lower Covid death toll than last year, when as many as 2,170 deaths were reported within a single week.

The Department of Health reported 108 deaths from August 18 to 24, though it cautioned that the figure may not be final.

As for easing the mandatory wearing of masks outdoors, Concepcion said he agrees with Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin "Benhur" Abalos Jr. to see first how Cebu City fares in its attempt to make masking optional.

But Concepcion added that he feels it is time to make outdoor masking optional because "it allows Filipinos to manage their risks."

He said he is looking at mitigation as a strategy, and believes that stocking up on antiviral pills like molnupiravir and Paxlovid would be the more practical move.

"People are starting to get together, to go out, return to normal activities, and some of them will get infected," he said.

"The economy at this time is the biggest priority, with the rising prices and interest rates our consumers and MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) will be affected. Consumer spending cannot wane because our GDP (gross domestic product) will be affected," he added.

Other strategies will depend on President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.'s decision on the State of Public Health Emergency, whose extension has been proposed until the end of the year.

"This will affect how the new vaccines will be purchased. If the manufacturers are able to secure certificates of product registration for their vaccines and sell these through drug stores or we continue with an emergency use authorization, all this must be cleared soon once the President makes his decision," he said.

Austriaco suggested a deadline for people to avail themselves of the free vaccines, to motivate them to get a booster shot immediately.

He also said he is for removing mandatory masking outdoors.

"Only have them on public transportation and health care facilities. Yes, this will allow some Omicron spread but in light of the decision of many Filipinos not to get boosted, it is better to allow for Omicron illness among those whose immunity is waning now to strengthen population immunity rather than to face a possible deadlier variant in six months that could kill more people," he said.