DOH pushed to tap ice cream makers for COVID-19 vaccine storage

DOH pushed to tap ice cream makers for COVID-19 vaccine storage
In this picture taken on April 29, 2020, an engineer looks at monkey kidney cells as he make a test on an experimental vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus inside the Cells Culture Room laboratory at the Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing. Sinovac Biotech, which is conducting one of the four clinical trials that have been authorised in China, has claimed great progress in its research and promising results among monkeys.
AFP / Nicolas Asfouri

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Francis Tolentino on Friday proposed that the government look into partnering with ice cream manufacturers in order to address the Philippines' current lack of freezers needed to stock up on the much-awaited coronavirus vaccine. 

"I am offering a policy solution. Why don't you, at this earliest stage, touch base with Magnolia Ice cream, Selecta Ice cream, and all other ice cream manufacturers to utilize their ice cream storage facilities?" Tolentino said during a Senate panel hearing on the Department of Health's proposed P203.74 billion budget for 2021. 

When asked by Tolentino point-blank if he accepted such a proposal, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III answered that his department is coordinating with the private sector to address concerns regarding cold chain storage and distribution. 

Vaccine storage is a critical component to the massive immunization program promised by President Rodrigo Duterte. A key challenge is finding cold storage facilities big enough to store coronavirus vaccines at temperatures as low as -80 degrees Celsius to maintain their potency. 

The health department said an inventory of cold storage facilities is underway, but industry officials believe the government would need to build them from scratch.

"The cold chain industry does not have that capability now because there is no existing need for that capability,” Anthony Dizon, president of the Cold Chain Association of the Philippines Inc., an industry group, said in a response to e-mailed questions.

READ: Philippines lacks freezers to stock up coronavirus vaccine

Tolentino added partially in Filipino on Friday: "Where should be the appropriate warehousing for these? They can't be stored in our refrigerators. You need a specialized freezer with a -80 degrees Celsius capacity to [keep] these vaccines for two weeks and if it goes past that, our money is wasted." 

"I don't see any sufficiency insofar as that fund is concerned, relative to the cold chain system that should be in place by December and at the latest by January," he said, upon learning that there is no current allocation for the cold storage of COVID-19 vaccines. 

While there is a P490 million warehousing allocation in the health department's proposed budget for 2021, Health Undersecretary Carol Taiño said this amount is not intended specifically for the COVID-19 vaccine. 

"Regarding the proposed amount for the warehouse, that is intended for the regular warehouse used by the central office...the money used for supply chain management comes from different programs of the DOH. We only make requests to them so, most probably, any time there is a requirement for warehousing, holding and brokerage, it still goes through a [long process]," Taiño said in English and Filipino. — Bella Perez-Rubio with reports from Gaea Katreena Cabico





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