Vaccination and private enterprise

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

In two earlier columns that I wrote in January 10 and January 31 this year, I already proposed that the private sector be involved in the procurement, distribution, and injections of the vaccines against COVID. I opined that this is the only way that the Philippines can achieve the 70% of the population target vaccinated to achieve herd immunity within this year. Since the arrival of the donated vaccines from COVAX and China in the past two weeks, it has become obvious that the vaccination plan implemented by the government has been very slow in terms of procurement, delivery, and actual injections. At the end of last week, excluding the smuggled vaccines, the Philippines has received 1.1 million doses with another million arriving in the first week of April. It took two weeks to vaccinate 1 million of the medical frontliners, at this rate it will take three years to reach the goal of 70 million injected with two doses.

Lately, with this realization, there are growing clamors from the private sector to liberalize the procurement of the vaccines not just to the local governments, but also to private companies that will immunize their employees. The other companies aside from San Miguel, ICTSI, and the companies under the Go Negosyo umbrella, which has a tripartite agreement with the government, should also be allowed to procure the vaccines. Many of the bigger cities in Metro Manila already have their own procurement program and even the Senate wants to procure vaccines for their employees, which shows that the national governments vaccination program is inadequate and lacking in credibility.

The initial supply limitations of the vaccines, which the government has touted as the reason for centralizing procurement will be over in a matter of months, as production of WHO-approved vaccines increase and more vaccine brands get accreditation from FDAs in different countries. The problem will shift to the logistics of procurement, shipment, storage, distribution, and injection. The bureaucracy and government procedures in the approval, payment processes, and delivery are just too cumbersome and slow. Even the best-intentioned experts in military logistics will be unable to out-perform private sector cost effective/profit driven logistical systems. Add to these, the designated government agencies are mostly manned by people who have no capability, experience, and physical resources to implement, and this includes even the task forces, since these were created ad-hoc without assessing the support agencies.

The vaccination solution has been staring us in the face and the government is starting to accept a bigger role for the private sector to prevent a bigger disaster, now that the daily contamination rate is hitting 10,000 plus per day. The petition of the Federation of Chinese Chambers (FCCI) to import vaccines have been reconsidered, the ICTSI, UNILAB, and Go Negosyo importations have also been approved. Even if the government is still insisting that an equivalent number of doses be donated to the government by these private entities, this is still better than denying or delaying the approvals. And to think that these private companies are paying for the vaccines and inoculation of their own employees at no cost to the government. The newly-signed CREATE law also now allows the tax-free importations of the vaccines and other medical products to combat the pandemic.

Thousands of companies and private individuals have already paid for the ordered vaccines of ICTSI, Go Negosyo, FCCI, and other credible importers through the different private organizations for vaccines that will be arriving in May, June, and July. These will be brought in by Zuellig and UNILAB and hospitals/clinics will be designated as inoculation centers. By September the private sector will have inoculated 35 million or half of the 70 million. It is the government’s obligation to inoculate the other 35 million. The private companies will and are going to do this not just for noble reasons, but also because they are eager to get back into business and again make profits. The private profit incentive makes for effective and efficient logistics, while the government takes twice as long and spends twice as much to do anything.

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