Close to 150,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines were destroyed in a fire that engulfed the Zamboanga del Sur Provincial Health Office in Pagadian City, the Palace said Tuesday.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said this was a ballpark figure and that the final number would be announced by vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr.
He said, however, that the doses would quickly be replaced.
The National Task Force Against Covid-19 (NTF) said that based on the initial report, the fire damaged 9,176 doses of AstraZeneca, 14,400 doses of Moderna, 88,938 dose of Pfizer-BioNTech, and 36,164 doses of Sinovac vaccines.
It said the AstraZeneca vaccines were allocated as second doses, which were scheduled for deployment on Nov. 3, while the Moderna vaccines were intended for the pediatric vaccination rollout also on Nov. 3.
The NTF said some of the Pfizer vaccines were allocated for Pagadian City.
In a joint statement, the NTF and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), the National Vaccination Operations Center (NVOC) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government said the government will replenish the 148,678 does of COVID-19 vaccines destroyed in the fire.
All concerned agencies are on standby to provide immediate support to the Regional and Local Vaccination Operations Centers in the Zamboanga Peninsula, it added.
"May this unfortunate incident be a reminder to all local government units to ensure the safety and security of these life-saving vaccines," it said.
Responders are retrieving vaccines that may still be useful and other items like refrigerators, vaccine carriers, and transport boxes.
The administration of jabs at the provincial and municipal levels has been rescheduled.
"We would like to assure the residents of Zamboanga del Sur that the NTF and NVOC will replenish all the damaged vaccines, especially those meant for citizens who are scheduled to get their second dose soon.
The vaccine doses will be shipped immediately as soon as the new cold storage is ready for use," the statement said.
NVOC chair and Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje said they will also investigate why the vaccines were still unused, a probable violation of a DILG order that all local government units (LGUs) must deploy and administer the jabs three days after receiving the supplies from the national government.
"We will look into that and then see who is accountable," Cabotaje said. She said the regional office is already implementing its backup plan.
"We are looking at how we will stock our cold chain equipment, if there are additional refrigerators that can be repositioned, additional freezers, and ultra-refrigerators," she added.
Meanwhile, Dr. Reynaldo Ortiz, Philippine Red Cross (PRC)-Zamboangadel Sur-Pagadian City chapter administrator, expressed fear of a possible shortage of blood supply in this province and parts of Lanao del Norte due to the fire.
Ortiz said they have temporarily ceased operation following Sunday's blaze and could not process their blood stocks until the extent of the fire's damage is assessed.
Ortiz said although the on-duty personnel managed to extract the stocks of blood, both processed and unprocessed, during the fire, these are only good for a week's supply.
Ortiz said the stocks of blood have already been deposited in different hospitals with cold storage facilities.
The PRC-Zamboanga del Sur-Pagadian City is one of the two accredited blood processing centers in the region. The other one is the PRC-Zamboanga City chapter.
Authorities said the fire broke out around 11:40 p.m. Sunday at the Blue Building of the Provincial Government Center in Barangay Dao, Pagadian City. It started at the maintenance department of the Zamboanga del Sur Medical Center.
The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) estimated the damage to properties at P1.5 million. They declared fire out at around 1:36 a.m. Monday.
The DILG has tapped the Philippine National Police and the BFP and its regional offices to ensure a speedy investigation.
The DILG will also issue a show cause order to the provincial government of Zamboanga del Sur for its failure to administer the vaccines three days after the receipt of the supplies.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said his office will probe the circumstances and whether an investigation is warranted.
"We’ll wait for the initial assessment of the BFP. If there are any indications of foul play, I will request the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) regional office to step in," Guevarra said.
To avoid similar incidents happening in the future, the DILG and DOH reiterated that all LGUs at the municipal, city, and provincial levels must ensure that their safety officers are reporting 24/7 in all COVID-19 cold chain facilities and warehouses.