DOH backs CHED’s lifting of Covid vax requirement for F-to-F classes

Stressing that the benefits of face-to-face (F-to-F) classes outweigh the risk of Covid-19 infections, the Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday threw its support behind the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) decision to allow students and higher education institutions (HEI) personnel to participate in in-person classes regardless of their vaccination status.

“Our Covid-19 response is dynamic, and always follows the latest scientific recommendations available. The benefits of in-person and face-to-face schooling now outweigh the risk of Covid-19 infections,” DOH Officer-in-Charge Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said. 

The DOH said that CHED consulted agency and its health experts in arriving at such updated policy. In a meeting on August 29, DOH, CHED, and health experts discussed the scientific bases for this update in policy.

Policymakers noted the high Covid-19 vaccination coverage in Philippine higher education, with 77 percent of students and 90 percent of HEI personnel already fully vaccinated against the virus.

DOH and health experts also presented data showing fewer infections in the 18 to 25 age group compared to other age groups and international data showing that Omicron and its sub-variants thus far have lower fatality or severity of disease.

“Face-to-face classes boost academic performance, improvement on mental health and well-being, and help develop social engagement skills,” Vergeire said.

Furthermore, she added, many of the bright yet disadvantaged students find it difficult to spend on devices and Internet access.

“Even as proof of vaccination is no longer needed, vaccination and boosters for all eligible individuals is still strongly recommended. Let us keep the wall of immunity strong,” Vergeire added.

The Philippines joins at least five other countries in giving more weight on the value of in-person and F-to-F higher education, given the scientific bases above.

The following countries have already removed the requirement for HEI students and personnel to show proof of vaccination: Australia, United Kingdom (but strongly encouraged), Canada (strongly recommended for congregate student-living settings), New Zealand, and Singapore (but unvaccinated students require biweekly testing for indoor dining).

The global community, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and Unicef, supports the move. 

“Our PinasLakas campaign for vaccination and boosters, plus continued adherence to the minimum public health standards make this return to university and college life on campus possible. Students and personnel should always be BIDA: wear the Best fitting mask, Isolate when sick, Double up protection with vaccination and boosters, and ensure good Airflow. The DOH will keep working with CHED and our colleges and universities to ensure safe higher education,” Vergeire said.