Roll out the vaccines and how

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - February 5, 2021 - 12:00am

With the vaccines to fight the 2019 coronavirus diseases (COVID-19) expected to arrive later this month, Metro Manila local government units (LGUs) will surely hit the ground running. Metro Manila LGU chief executives like Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte and Navotas City Mayor Tobias “Toby” Tiangco have showed the readiness to carry out their respective anti-COVID vaccination programs that were checked and inspected by the National Task Force (NTF) on the Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic (CODE).

The city governments of Mayors Belmonte and Tiangco are fine-tuning their respective vaccination programs in dry runs and simulations of their vaccination roll outs. The vaccination programs of the two Metro Manila cities were recently inspected one after the other by NTF chief implementer and concurrently the designated “vaccine czar” Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. along with Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque as co-chairman of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID).

This was after Mayors Belmonte and Tiangco signed last month a tripartite agreement in behalf of their respective LGUs, with Galvez as the “vaccine czar” and AstraZeneca Pharma representatives in the Philippines for the supply of their anti-COVID vaccines. Under this tripartite agreement, the country has secured another 17 million doses of anti-COVID vaccines from British-Swedish pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca.

In our weekly virtual Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday, the two Metro Manila Mayors presented to us the roll out plans of their respective vaccination programs in Navotas and Quezon cities. Heading the largest city in terms of land area and population in Metro Manila, Mayor Belmonte informed us the city government have already “partnered” with Zuellig Pharma to handle the cold storage chain from point-to-point of the warehousing, delivery, distribution, and the dashboard monitoring of their vaccinees.

Mayor Tiangco agreed with Mayor Belmonte that all Metro Manila LGUs should inoculate non-residents, or those who are working in their areas, both from government and private firms, because their cities being contiguous with each other. All of them are using the AstraZeneca anti-COVID vaccines procured through private sector initiatives steered by presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion.

That was signed before the European Union (EU) recently adopted a policy to restrict the sale of anti-COVID vaccines produced by their bloc member-states within these countries only. In his “address to the people” last Monday night after the weekly IATF meeting, President Duterte bewailed the alleged “hostaging” of the AztraZeneca by the more powerful and rich countries from the EU.

But under the tripartite agreement with the AstraZeneca, Tiangco disclosed, the signatories were made aware they will receive the first delivery of the anti-COVID vaccine doses by the second semester of this year, or starting in July at the earliest.

Some bleeding hearts at the Senate earlier insisted LGUs and private companies should be allowed to directly deal with COVID-19 vaccine suppliers on their own and without the national government’s intervention. Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto even accused the national government of “monopolizing” the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines despite repeated explanations made by Galvez and Duque during the public hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole.

At present, all anti-COVID vaccines being used are only those that have secured emergency authority to use (EAU) from their respective Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the World Health Organization (WHO). FDA director-general Dr. Eric Domingo explained to the Senators an EUA is a “risk-based” process to evaluate the vaccines that are not yet registered could be used during a public emergency crisis like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Amid the reported EU ban, Mayors Belmonte and Tiangco, however, revealed they received reassurances from AstraZeneca representatives here that they see no problems in the delivery contract of their anti-COVID vaccines as scheduled. Should the delivery indeed gets delayed by the EU ban, Mayor Belmonte assuaged her constituents, she is already in talks with other pharmaceutical companies for the local procurement of other COVID-19 vaccines. Mayor Tiangco admitted he is doing the same thing for the people of Navotas.

But both Mayors clarified they are talking with other pharma companies under the guidance of the NTF because all these vaccine-makers directly negotiate only with the national government. Since all these anti-COVID vaccines are still on third clinical trials yet, pharma companies cannot sell them to direct buyers.

Nonetheless, both Mayors are not much bothered by this looming scenario from the EU ban. This is because the LGUs are already covered by the multilateral agreement signed by the Philippine government under the WHO’s COVID-19 Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI-COVAX) Facility. This WHO Facility guarantees 20% of the Philippine population can be supplied with the vaccine, being among those classified as low and middle income countries.

WHO country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe yesterday announced the Philippines will receive their anti-COVID vaccines allocated by COVAX Facility within the first to second quarter of this year. In an official statement, Abeyasinghe notified the Philippine government: “When all of those requirements are met and we believe that the Philippines is on track to do that, we are looking potentially at a maximum of 9.2 million doses coming through the COVAX facility by March or April of this year.”

Abeyasinghe, however, qualified the rest of the delivery from AstraZeneca depends if the vaccines it manufacture in South Korea can maintain targeted production capacity.

This is just one of the hard realities of getting the anti-COVID vaccines here even if LGU chiefs like Mayors Belmonte and Tiangco are ready to roll them out and how.

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