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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

DOH admits over 20.6 million doses of COVID vax wasted

More than 20.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have either expired or remain unused, the Department of Health (DOH) said Monday.

Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, the DOH’s OIC, said the number represents 8.42 percent of the country’s total procured vaccines as of Aug. 12 this year, or within the 10 percent allowed number for wastage by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Wastage was caused by the expiration of the vaccines, opened or broken vials, backflow, leftovers, and under doses.

“There were also wastage due to natural disasters, like typhoon Odette, fire and earthquake,” Vergeire told a Senate panel Monday. She also said some vaccines went to waste because the needed temperature was not maintained.

Vergeire said the COVAX facility, which is supported by the WHO, has committed to replacing expired and wasted vaccines.

But Senator Risa Hontiveros placed the peso amount of wasted vaccines at P5.78 billion.

“This is a big amount, whether the vaccines were procured or donated,” she said, noting that this was an embarrassment as poorer countries were in need of the vaccines.

She said Vergeire’s assurance that COVAX will replace the expired vaccines is not enough to end the discussion. What is needed, she said, is to find ways to prevent the repetition of vaccine wastage.

Vergeire said one way to reduce wastage was to no longer procure more vaccines until the end of the year, given the sufficient supply right now.

“Based on our estimate with the first and second booster shots and based on uptake of vaccines right now, we will have enough for us to reach our targets. We don’t need to procure more this year,” Vergeire said.

The remaining COVID-19 vaccine stock of the government will be sufficient until the first quarter of 2023, she added.

More than 90 percent of the country’s population already received their first two COVID vaccines.

But booster shot demand was tremendously reduced to a mere 21 percent as of July 2022, she said.

This resulted in many unused vaccines, which was primarily brought by the DOH findings that 9 out of every 10 Filipinos have become “overly confident” for just having two vaccines.

Others refuse to take the booster jab after experiencing side effects from their first two shots; booster shots are not a work or school requirement, and workers’ employers do not provide a leave for COVID vaccine effects, Vergeire said.

The DOH is still intensifying its information drive to encourage more people to receive their booster shots.

The agency is also asking the Department of Labor and Employment to come up with programs that will encourage workers to receive their boosters, and introduce a policy that will excuse an employee from work if the latter experiences side effects from boosters, Vergeire added.

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