Heard immunity

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - March 17, 2021 - 12:00am

I heard from General Carlito Galvez, chief implementor of COVID plans and vaccine czar, that the bulk of COVID-19 vaccines will arrive in the second quarter this year.

I also heard from Martin Andanar, the administration’s chief propagandist, that with the arrival of the vaccines, there is light at the end of the tunnel and that the country will achieve herd immunity before the end of the year.

“Heard” immunity… also known as pang press release lang even as we are getting antsy about vaccine availability.

Herd immunity, the real thing, requires 70 to 90 percent of the population acquiring resistance to the coronavirus. In herd immunity, the transmission of the virus substantially slows because enough people have been protected through infection or vaccination.

Unfortunately, we haven’t started vaccinating our people beyond some frontline healthcare workers. That’s because the only vaccines we have on hand are the donations from China and COVAX, a project of the World Health Organization. The Duterte officials dropped the ball on negotiations for our vaccine supplies, remember?

But Galvez claims to be on track to vaccinate 70 million Filipinos this year. We only effectively have six months left if the vaccines will arrive soon as often claimed. That’s 180 days left. Can we vaccinate about 400,000 people a day?

That’s a fantastic and worthwhile goal. But given the track record of Duterte’s COVID response team, can we believe they are capable of pulling that off? It is simpler to contact trace, but they failed big time and still failing… hence this horrible surge of COVID cases these days.

The US, under Donald Trump, had been slow to vaccinate Americans. After taking office, Joseph Biden set the goal of administering more than 1.5 million doses a day or 100 million vaccine shots by his 100th day in office.

But they very quickly did better than promised. They are now administering over 2.3 million shots a day.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last Sunday about 69.8 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including about 37.5 million people who have been fully vaccinated by Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine or the two-dose series made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

At its current pace of vaccinating people, about half of the total US population of 330 million would be at least partially vaccinated around mid-May, and nearly all, around early August.

Biden promised that by May, anyone who wants to be vaccinated can be vaccinated. He also told Americans to look forward to July 4th as the day they can be back to pretty much normal times.

Of course, that’s America, a rich country. But even America floundered in the early stages because they had an incompetent president in charge. Indeed, Trump didn’t want to concede that COVID was anything more than a bad case of flu. He also made wearing a mask a political issue, overruled his medical advisers, and prescribed drugs not tested for COVID.

I cite the US case here to show that leadership at the top does make a difference, as Biden showed. We don’t have that kind of leadership here. No ifs and no buts, the Duterte administration failed its COVID test miserably.

Unless the President picks more competent people to run our COVID response, there is no light at the end of their long tunnel of incompetence. We might even be smashed by the onrushing train of utter failure in the implementation of the critical logistical requirements.

As I explained in my column last Monday, there is no one senior official in the IATF and DOH who understands logistics… specially vaccine distribution logistics. This early, I have heard reports of mishandling a few thousand doses of donated vaccines.

It was explained to me that every batch of vaccines have thermometers that measure and record the temperature of the shipment. All vaccines have required temperatures to be maintained or risk spoiling the entire batch.

Are we sure all of the donated vaccines are being stored properly in warehouses designed for handling sensitive pharmaceutical products? Is the temperature in the storage facility constantly measured and maintained?

Given the culture of impunity among our officials, it is likely that those vaccines will be mishandled because favored unqualified entities are given contracts. They shouldn’t, for example, contract a food cold storage company because a politician intervened.

While there may be no big difference from pharma cold storage to food cold storage, the difference is in the handling.

There are enough companies with medical grade storage and moving capabilities to choose from. To name some: Unilab, Zuellig, Metro Drug’s new facility in Mamplasan, Orca in Muntinglupa.

They must also select a forwarder who is certified to handle and distribute pharma products by the FDA, specially vaccines. Not everyone with a refrigerated van is qualified to handle vaccines. The professionals in this business go through regular training.

The vaccines may be ruined if the minimum temperature was not maintained in the transport van.  Temperature must be properly controlled and measured during transport.

DOH is also about to award a vaccine management system that is home grown and untested. Similar digital systems in other countries handle registrations, create vaccination schedules, direct people to vaccination centers, and create vaccination certificates.

Maybe we don’t have to reinvent the wheel and instead use tried and tested systems that have proven track records abroad. We don’t have the luxury of time to cure all the bugs in a local system started from scratch.

The DOH manual also talks of the supply chain to take care of ancillary immunization supplies provided by the program must include auto-disabled (AD) needles and syringes, mixing syringes, safety collector boxes (SCB), PPEs (masks and face shields).

I simply can’t imagine DOH or the IATF coordinating all the moving parts of this operation well. And yes, they delegated most of the critical things to be done to LGUs.

Our main worry should be assuring the vaccines get to the places where they will be injected into our arms in top shape… right temperature throughout time in storage and transport. Otherwise, sayang lang ang pagod at pera.



Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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