Recto to Palace: Name vaccine ‘czar’ now

Senator Ralph Recto on Saturday urged Malacañang to appoint someone capable of getting the right vaccine for coronavirus disease and ensure all the 110 million Filipinos will be injected.

Designating the vaccine czar this early, according Recto, will also jumpstart the setting up of a “supply-to-syringe cold chain” as the vaccines have to be moved and stored in freezing temperatures in a tropical country that lacks infrastructure for it.

There are 170 possible vaccines in various stages of development, but the  World Health Organization stated that only about two billion doses can be rolled out by the end of 2021.

“How much is left for the Filipinos? Countries who have sunk billions into their development have firm orders so they are first in line. Where is our place in the long line?” Recto asked.

The senator also said countries who developed the vaccines might prioritize their own people.

“We need a Filipino with global stature, excellent connections, and diplomatic skills to successfully place the orders and outsmart the competition. On-the-job training is not allowed here,” he said.

Recto said the other problems were insular in nature after the first batches of vaccines had arrived.

“First is the selection. The first wave has the element of rationing. Who will be chosen? What will be the selection guideline? It is already settled that medical personnel will be first on the line. Who’s next?” Recto said.

“If the vaccines will be licensed to be produced here, do we have the infrastructure for that? And how fast can we scale up production?” he added.

Regardless of the source, Recto said, whoever will be appointed as vaccine czar must know how to bring the vaccines to 110 million people in an archipelago lacking cold transport and storage facilities.

“Like any frozen delight, the vaccine needs to be refrigerated. Filling the cold chain gap ranks high in the vaccine czar’s many duties,” he said.

Recto cited the recent warning by logistics giant DHL that “temperature requirements are likely to be the main challenge” to a COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Pharmaceutical giant Moderna said its vaccines must be stored at minus 20 degrees Celsius. Pfizer, on the other hand, has notified the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that its vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

Recto said recent annual immunization drives by the Department of Health had not reached more than 15 million.

“Delivery is just one aspect. Not included in the post-inoculation monitoring because even experts are saying that a vaccine that is 100 percent safe and efficient will be a tough goal. Talagang malawak ang trabaho ng vaccine czar,” Recto said.

Malacañang has included P2.5 billion for the purchase of vaccines in the 2021 budget, which Recto described “more as a move to provide appropriations cover for a program so that it can be augmented later.”

Russian vaccine

A congressional leader on Saturday vowed to push for the Philippines to become a production hub of the Russian Coronavirus 2019 vaccine once its safety and efficacy are proven by Philippine health officials.

San Jose Del Monte City Rep. Florida Robes, chairperson of the House of Representatives’ Committee on People Participation of the House of Representatives, said she has been in close coordination through meetings with the Russian Embassy in the Philippines to tackle the latest developments on the clinical studies being conduct on Sputnik V, the Russian vaccine for COVID-19.

During her last committee meeting on the issue, Robes said once the safety and efficacy of Sputnik V was established by the Departments of Health and Science and Technology and the Food and Drug Administration, she will personally work to make the Philippines a production hub for the vaccine in order to make it affordable to all Filipinos. 

“What the Russian government is offering to us will make the COVID-19 vaccines more affordable to all Filipinos and will enhance the knowledge and expertise of our scientists in vaccine production which they can use in the development of vaccines of other diseases,” Robes said.

Safety evaluation

In the Philippines, the DOH and the DOST together with the Russian Direct Investment Fund,  which is the only Russian state-owned institution responsible for the production and distribution of the vaccine, is currently evaluating the safety of Sputnik V under the phase 1 and phase 2 of the clinical trials.

As soon as the DOH and DOST obtain positive results of the tests and evaluation,  phase 3 or the final stage of the clinical trials will begin. Phase 3, which is the human trial, is expected to last for 3 months and if all goes well, the vaccine may be made available in the early part of 2021.

Robes said she would again conduct another meeting with the DOH, DOST, Department of Budget Management and FDA to determine the status of the vaccine trials.

Fabella closed

The Doctor Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Manila has  closed some of their units from October 24 to 27 for disinfection against the novel coronavirus.

Dr. Esmeraldo Ilem, Medical Center Chief II of the hospital, confirmed to GMA News Online on Saturday that some of its resident doctors tested positive for COVID-19.

 “Seven of our OB-Gyn residents turned out to be COVID-19 Positive from the swab done last October 20,” he said. The results were released on Oct. 22.

“Close contacts including co-doctors, nurses and other personnel are being closely monitored,” Ilem said, adding that they took swab tests and were advised to go on quarantine.

Earlier, the OCTA Research team said the cities of Makati, Baguio, Mandaluyong, and Lucena in Quezon province are top high-risk areas for COVID-19 due to increasing number cases, as their critical care capacity is nearing to be maxed out at 100 percent.

Storage facilities

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said they were planning to build cold storage facilities per region or province to ensure proper safekeeping and to preserve the vaccine’s effectiveness, saying the current number of storage facilities will also have to cater to other vaccines.

Vergeire said “We are talking to different groups so that we could expand our storage facilities in preparation for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Ideally for the cold storage gusto natin na bawat region may hubs o storage facilities...Ideally we want to have hubs or cold storage facilities in every region. But hopefully, we can expand that to provinces to make sure we retain the effectiveness of the vaccine,” she said.

COVID updates 

As of 4 pm Saturday, the Department of Health reported the total number of COVID-19 cases at 367,819, after 2,057 newly-confirmed cases were added to the list of COVID-19 patients.”

The DOH also reported 19 new fatalities, bringing the death toll to 6,934.

At the same time, DOH announced  442 recoveries, bringing the total number of recoveries to 313,112.

Of the 2,057 reported cases, 1,892 (92 percent) occurred within the recent 14 days  from October 11 to  October 24, 2020.

The top regions with cases in the recent two weeks were NCR (506 or 27 percent), Region 4A (369 or 20 percent) and CAR (142 or 8 percent).

The top provinces and cities by newly-announced cases are Rizal, 107;  Caloocan City, 102;  Quezon City, 96;  Benguet, 92; and Davao City, 91.

Topics: Ralph Recto , coronavirus disease , COVID-19 , vaccine , Department of Health
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