January 22, 2021 at 01:40 am
Willie Casas and Macon Ramos-Araneta
The Philippines will begin receiving COVID-19 vaccines in the first quarter this year through the COVAX Facility, a global procurement system that seeks to ensure that poorer nations have access to coronavirus vaccines.
The country received its confirmation of participation in the COVAX Facility, paving the way for it to begin receiving vaccines in the first quarter. The country can expect to receive 30 million to 40 million doses from the COVAX Facility, said vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr.
He added that the first deliveries would probably be vaccines from Pfizer.
As part of the preparations for the COVID-19 vaccine deployment, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Galvez visited three cold storages that can be used in the first wave of the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out.
These were the First Pioneer Distribution Center of Unilab in Biñan City, Laguna, the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City and the Zuellig Pharma Corp. in Parañaque City.
Unilab officials said their cold storage facility has a temperature range of +2 to +8 °C and can store a maximum of 5 million doses of vaccines. Zuellig Pharma reported that its facilities can accommodate pharmaceutical products with temperature requirements ranging between -80°C to +25 °C. Zuellig further noted that its +2 to +8 °C cold rooms can store up to 629 million doses in various warehouses, its -15 to -25 °C walk-in freezers can hold up to 40 million doses, and its 14 ultra-cold freezers with -80 to -70 °C temperature range have the capacity to store up to 6.5 million doses.
“The vaccine cluster, on behalf of the government, is grateful to Unilab and Zuellig Pharma for partnering with the government in further strengthening the country’s capacity to curb the pandemic. We also express our commitment to ensure continued support for RITM in its preparations to receive vaccines,” Galvez said.
RITM Director Dr. Celia Carlos revealed that RITM currently has four cold rooms with a +2 to +8 °C temperature range, one -20 °C walk-in freezer, and two borrowed ultra-low temperature freezers with a -70 to -80 °C temperature range. RITM has committed its ultra-low temperature storage facility.
Duque said the vaccine cluster is also in talks with third-party logistics providers to ensure efficiency of the entire supply chain management of COVID-19 vaccines, from the receipt of vaccines from the COVAX Facility to their deployment.
“All of these preparations that we are undertaking are aimed at ensuring that the country is ready to receive, store, and mobilize the COVID-19 vaccines that will come from the COVAX Facility,” he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, said Galvez assured the senators there will be no overpricing in the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
Sotto and Senators Panfilo Lacson and Ronald dela Rosa met with Galvez Wednesday night.
Galvez also guaranteed that all payments for the vaccines will go directly to the pharmaceutical companies from the lending institution, which will also set in place proper safeguards, Sotto said.
He said he was satisfied by Galvez’s assurances and realized he was obligated to keep silent at this stage on the vaccine prices.
“We were able to see all the necessary documents and proposed agreements. Indeed there are non-disclosure agreements mandated by the pharmaceutical companies internationally. I will inform our colleagues on the important facts ASAP,” he said.
He said the Senate inquiry into the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program will still resume Friday.
“The hearing will push through and hopefully we will be able to elicit enough information to be able to convince our countrymen that the vaccines no matter what brand will be necessary for us to defeat the virus,” Sotto said.
Lacson said Galvez’s briefing addressed some of the concerns raised by the senators.
“We advised him to explain in tomorrow’s hearing the same way that he did last night, without violating the terms of the agreement with the vaccine suppliers,” Lacson said.
“On our part, we committed to honor and respect those terms so as not to jeopardize the deliveries of the vaccines that he said will start within the first quarter of this year,” he added.
Lacson, who had earlier questioned the pricing of vaccines from China, said he had no doubts about Galvez’s integrity “and his sincerity to accomplish his task.”
In other developments:
* Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the Department of Health is seeking the advice of experts in obstetrics and gynecology on the vaccination of pregnant women. In an interview on GMA News’ Unang Balita, she said the World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend vaccinating pregnant women in its recommendations for the emergency use of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines.
* The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday confirmed that Bharat Biotech from India has applied for emergency use authorization (EUA) in the Philippines for its COVID-19 vaccine. The World Health Organization said Bharat Biotech is developing an inactivated virus vaccine that comes in 2 doses. Bharat Biotech has advised those with weak immunity, allergies and bleeding disorders not to take the vaccine.
* The Bureau of Customs at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport has begun preparations to facilitate the entry of approved COVID-19 vaccines into the country. Port of NAIA district collector Carmelita Talusan said they have started coordinating with concerned government offices, private facilities and regulatory agencies to expedite the release of the vaccine shipments upon their arrival.
* To help ensure the effective and efficient rollout of the country’s vaccination program, Senator Pia S. Cayetano yesterday proposed to establish a Vaccine Passport Program that will help the government keep track of every Filipino’s record of inoculations against COVID-19. The senator filed Wednesday Senate Bill No. 1999 or the “Vaccine Passport Program Act,” which seeks to provide a vaccine passport to all Filipinos.