Wanted: Philippine vaccine czar
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto has urged Malacañang to appoint the country’s vaccine czar now as it is an urgent need in a world where rich countries bankrolling the development of these vaccines will get them first.
The STAR/Michael Varcas, File
Wanted: Philippine vaccine czar
Cecille Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star) - October 25, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The country needs a “vaccine czar” to handle the “importation to injection” challenges in securing COVID-19 vaccines for all 110 million Filipinos, a senator said yesterday.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto has urged Malacañang to appoint the country’s vaccine czar now as it is an urgent need in a world where rich countries bankrolling the development of these vaccines will get them first.

“Naming the vaccine czar this early will also jumpstart the setting up of a ‘supply-to-syringe cold chain’ as the vaccines have to be moved and stored in freezing temperatures in a tropical country that lacks infrastructure for it,” Recto said.

Although 170 candidate-vaccines are in various stages of development, the World Health Organization (WHO) said only about two billion doses can be rolled out by the end of 2021.

“How much is left for Filipinos? Countries which have sunk billions into their development have firm orders so they are first in line. Where do we stand in that long line?” Recto said.

Another hurdle, he said, is that countries which have developed the vaccines may bow to “country first” pressure from their own people and practice “vaccine nationalism.”

“Against this obstacle, we need a Filipino with global stature, excellent connections and diplomatic skills to successfully place the orders and outsmart the competition,” he said, adding it is not a job for amateurs.

The other problems are “insular in nature” after the first batches of vaccines have arrived,  he said.

“First is the selection. Because the first wave really has an element of rationing. Who will choose? What will be the selection guideline? It is already settled that medical personnel will be first in line. Who will be next?” Recto said.

He posed more questions such as: “If the vaccines will be licensed to be produced here, do we have the infrastructure for that? And how fast can we scale up production?”

Then, the next big challenge is how to bring the vaccines to 110 million people in an archipelago lacking cold transport and storage facilities, Recto said.

“Like any frozen delight, the vaccine needs to be refrigerated. Filling the cold chain gap ranks high in the vaccine czar’s many duties,” he said.

Recto cited the recent warning by logistics giant DHL that “temperature requirements are likely to be the main challenge” to a COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Pharmaceutical giant Moderna said its vaccines must be stored at minus 20 degrees Celsius. Pfizer, on the other hand, has notified the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that its vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

Recto said recent annual immunization drives by the Department of Health (DOH) had not reached more than 15 million, “far from the universal coverage target of 110 million.”

“Delivery is just one aspect. Post-inoculation monitoring is not included because even experts are saying that a vaccine that is 100 percent safe and efficient will be a tough goal. The vaccine czar really does have a lot of work,” Recto said.

Malacañang has included P2.5 billion for the purchase of vaccines in the 2021 budget, which Recto described “more as a move to provide appropriations cover for a program so that it can be augmented later.”

“But their pricing of P307.50 per dose, or P615 per person because two doses are needed, I hope it will come true, because it is cheaper compared with the projected price quoted in news reports,” he said.

COVID-19 VACCINE
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