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BOC prepares for vaccine arrival this week
An illustration picture taken on November 19, 2020, shows a vial with Covid-19 Vaccine sticker and an earth globe.
AFP/Joel Saget

BOC prepares for vaccine arrival this week

Rudy Santos, Evelyn Macairan (The Philippine Star) - February 9, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — To ensure the prompt release of COVID-19 vaccines upon their arrival in the country, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) said it would conduct the necessary customs clearance processes right at the airplane ramp.

“We will allow ramp release,” Customs Assistant Commissioner Vincent Philip Maronilla said yesterday. “We would do the necessary customs processes and release” at the ramp.

The vaccines would be immediately turned over to the Department of Health (DOH) after being processed.

It’s not clear if the procedure would already apply to the initial 117,000 vaccine doses that are expected to arrive on Feb. 12.

“As much as possible, we will conduct pre-arrival processing in coordination with the broker and DOH. We will also allow the Provisional Goods Declaration (PGD) to make sure that there would be continuous release of the vaccines,” Maronilla said.

The BOC official explained that PGD would allow the release of shipment with limited documentation. “Allowing release first, and submission of required original documents after,” he said.

Maronilla also said that after completing today the simulation for handling of the vaccine, they would have a “walk-through” to make sure everything is in place to guarantee smooth release of the vaccines.

The “purpose of walkthrough is to make sure smooth coordination, communication, release and transport once the actual vaccines arrive,” he added.

In a statement, BOC Deputy Commissioner Edward James Dy Buco said they may utilize the Electronic Tracking of Containerized Cargo (E-TRACC) to monitor the movement of the vaccines.

On Friday, nine million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Astra Zeneca and 117,000 from Pfizer will arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

A source said a foreign carrier – either Nippon Air or Qatar Air – will carry the AstraZeneca vaccines totaling nine million doses while a Philippine Airlines (PAL) flight will deliver the 117,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines.

The PAL aircraft carrying the Pfizer vaccines will park near a spot where refrigerated vans would be on standby to pick up the cargo and take it to Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) facility in Muntinlupa.

From RITM, the vaccines will be transported to Metro Manila hospitals like Jose Rodriguez Memorial Hospital, Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and the Lung Center of the Philippines.

AstraZeneca vaccines would also be loaded into refrigerated vans, but it’s not clear yet which hospitals would receive them.

“The requirement for medicines is they have to be temperature-controlled, so that’s a very important requirement and we have to ensure that throughout their journey, when the medicines and vaccines are in our hands, we have to make sure that they don’t ever go beyond a certain temperature. The cold properties are actually maintained all throughout the journey,” a local carrier official said.

Simulation

Today, the DOH will conduct simulation of procedures for receiving and delivering the vaccines to designated hospitals.

“The simulation will be conducted so the flow of our vaccination program, from the time the vaccines arrive in the country up to the time they are actually given to the vaccinees,” DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said at a briefing.

She added that since the country is getting different vaccines, there would be different processes for each type.

“If the vaccines require 2°C to 8°C, from the airport they will be brought to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, which is our central hub for the vaccines,” she said. This is expected to take 20 minutes from NAIA to the RITM warehouse in Muntinlupa City.

She added from RITM, the vaccines would be brought to “our regional counterpart, which will be the ones to distribute among different local government units.” The LGUs will then take the vaccines to designated vaccination sites.

For simulation of inoculation proper at designated sites, the vaccines will be transported to PGH in Manila, Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City, and Dr. Jose Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Caloocan City, all serving as COVID-19 referral centers.

According to Vergeire, there will also be simulation activities for vaccines that require other cold chain storage temperatures.

The simulation will also include the vaccines undergoing clearance from the BOC at the airport and their designation of vehicles where the vaccines will be loaded.

“We will see if the temperature will change during the transportation because what will be the most important for us is to maintain the potency of the vaccines,” she said.

The potency of the vaccines will also be examined to check if they are brought to appropriate storage facilities.

“Temperature is very sensitive so… we will check every step of the way… We also have to make sure that the hospitals are ready to receive these vaccines,” she added.

Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines require ultra low freezer temperature -70 °C, while AstraZeneca’s need cold chain storage between 2°C and 8°C.

Tax exemption

As the BOC prepares a quick processing of COVID-19 vaccines shipment, the House ways and mans committee approved yesterday a consolidated substitute bill that would exempt them from duties and value added tax.

“The underlying economic principle that every country must bear in mind now is simple: no vaccine, no normal life,” committee chairman Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said.

In a Zoom hearing, the Salceda committee approved House Bill 8584 which is a consolidation of HBs 8301, 8324, 8375 and 8376 all aimed at providing a quick government vaccination rollout as soon as the vaccine becomes available.

“We will consolidate these bills. Let me be clear: the number one economic priority of the country must be fast, efficient and safe delivery of vaccines. At this point, very little else matters. That is why we are prioritizing removing these friction costs,” he said.

“One day saved from the tax refund system and one day of not having to deal with customs procedures is worth billions in economic output,” he said.

“As President Duterte said, we are losing some P20 billion in economic output due to delays in vaccination. So, the revenue impact of these bills matters very little to me, in view of their overwhelming economic importance,” Salceda pointed out.

Deputy Speaker Wes Gatchalian called on government agencies to be on alert for fake vaccines.

“We are anticipating that with the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines in the country, there will also be an influx of unscrupulous individuals selling unregistered, or worse, fake vaccines,” Gatchalian warned.

“We call on all cybercrime agencies of the government to be on the lookout for illegal and unregistered COVID-19 vaccines and pool their resources to apprehend opportunists who prey on the public,” the Valenzuela congressman said.

He said that it’s not just the money of consumers that is at stake, but also their very lives.

“The medicines that have not been pre-approved by the FDA may be highly harmful to the health of our consumers. I urge our kababayans to report any suspicious claims or advertisement claiming to be a vaccine for COVID-19,” he said, referring to the regulatory Food and Drug Administration.

“Although these are indeed trying times, it is the height of insensitivity to take advantage of the need of our public,” he added.

The FDA previously warned the public against buying and using unregistered vaccines being sold online.

Meanwhile, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio lamented what she considered general reluctance of the public to get vaccinated.

“It shows that there are still people who do not want to be vaccinated. That is why we have to work harder on informing people on the importance of the vaccination against COVID,” Duterte-Carpio said in her regular radio program.

“We cannot force people to be vaccinated because it is voluntary,” she added. – Sheila Crisostomo, Delon Porcalla, Edith Regalado

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