Over 20 million COVID-19 jabs wasted — DOH

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Over 20 million COVID-19 jabs wasted � DOH
A medical worker prepares the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine for children aged 5-11 at a gym in San Juan City, suburban Manila on February 7, 2022.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health reported Monday that over 20 million donated and procured COVID-19 vaccine doses were wasted in the Philippines. 

A total of 20,660,354 COVID-19 vaccines were wasted as of August 12, Health Undersecretary Carol Tanio told the Senate committee on health and demography. 

Broken down, 6% of the donated COVID-19 jabs, 22% of the vaccines purchased by local governments, and 40% of the shots procured by the private sector had expired. 

Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, officer-in-charge of the DOH, said the 134 million vaccine doses procured by the national government did not have any wastage.

The country’s COVID-19 vaccine wastage was at 8.42% — still within the standard rate of 10% or lower set by the World Health Organization.

“At this rate, by October, we will exceed the threshold of the WHO for acceptable wastage. So we might have accumulated vaccines faster than we could administer them,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros said. She earlier called for an inquiry into the wastage of COVID-19 jabs.

“Nakapanghihinayang na parang patapon ang paggasta ng bilyong piso para dito. It seems that our vaccine program is leaking billions of pesos,” she added. 

(It is regrettable that it seems like we are throwing away billions of pesos for this.)

According to Vergeire, the vaccines were identified as wastage after some had expired, had been contaminated, and had been opened but not injected.

“There were also wastage due to natural disasters like Typhoon Odette (Rai), fire, earthquakes, also due to temperature controls like thawed vaccines but were not used and temperature excursions, and the presence of [particulate] matters or discoloration in vials of vaccines,” Vergeire said.

The Senate panel is holding a hearing on the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and the threat of monkeypox, COVID-19 vaccine wastage, and the implementation of the Universal Health Care Act.

Ways forward

According to Vergeire, the COVAX facility has agreed to replace all expired vaccines “as long as these replacement vaccines will be used and will not expire again.”

The COVAX facility, backed by the WHO and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, delivers COVID-19 vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable people.

The health official said the government is no longer going to buy additional COVID-19 jabs until the end of year. 

“With first booster and second booster and based on uptake of vaccines right now, we will have enough to reach our targets that we do not need to procure more of these vaccines,” Vergeire said. 

The DOH is working with the Department of Labor and Employment and the Civil Service Commission to encourage employees to get booster and improve vaccination coverage in government offices, respectively.

The agency is also providing support to and involving local governments in the planning of the COVID-19 vaccination program.   

“We are now intensifying campaigns to allay fears regarding side effects of COVID-19 vaccinations, clarifying concerns regarding safety of vaccines with extended shelf life, and ensuring that health care workers are able to properly explain this to our clients,” Vergeire said.

Since March 2021, 72 million Filipinos have completed vaccination against COVID-19. However, only 16.9 million people—or 21.76% of the target population—have gotten boosters. 

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