POSTSCRIPT / June 22, 2021 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Herd immunity seen again ‘by Christmas’

THE COVID-19 vaccination situation may have started to look better, if not merrier, prodding the inoculation manager of the government to reiterate his prediction that herd immunity would be achieved by Christmas.

Vaccine Czar Carlito Galvez Jr. rang the optimistic jingle bells as he announced Sunday the start in August of the delivery of 40 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine under a deal sealed by him and Health Secretary Francisco Duque with the giant drug firm.

Galvez rolled out the numbers. The Philippines has secured 113 million doses from Sinovac (26 million), Sputnik V (10 million), Moderna (20 million), AstraZeneca (17 million), and now Pfizer (40 million).

In addition, 44 million had been committed by the COVAX facility, bringing to 157 million all the doses secured – enough to inoculate 70 percent of the 110-million population and attain herd immunity to stop the spread of the pandemic that has claimed more than 23,625 Filipino lives.

Galvez also announced that 8,050,711 jabs have been administered nationwide as of June 18, combining those who have completed two doses – estimated at one out of every four vaccinees – and those who have had only the first shot.

He predicted that with the stepping up soon of deliveries, the daily vaccination rate will shoot up to 500,000 by the third quarter and at least 740,000 by the fourth quarter.

He did not disclose the buying price, raising ugly speculations about possible overpricing. For US donations to less developed nations, the Biden administration has been buying Pfizer vaccine reportedly at a bulk price of $7 per dose, much lower than the $20 being quoted earlier.

The Philippine purchase of 40 million Pfizer doses will be financed through a multilateral arrangement with the Asian Development Bank. Money will not pass through any Filipino official or agency but paid directly by the fund manager to the vaccine manufacturer.

The government took a $400-million ADB loan to be paid in 10 years, with a grace period of three years. The bank’s loans and grants supporting the Philippines’ pandemic response have amounted to around $3 billion.

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PRESIDENT Biden has pledged to donate 80 million doses worldwide, with seven million reportedly earmarked for the Philippines and other South and Southeast Asian nations. The US matches donations with the recipient country’s capability to handle supply.

That point about a country’s capacity to handle supply is important because with Pfizer soon outnumbering the other brands here, the capability of the system to handle the temperature-sensitive US-made serum will be put to the test.

The need for better handling becomes more pronounced because Pfizer vaccines have a storage temperature requirement of -80 to -60 degrees Celsius. Moderna and Sputnik V vaccines require -20 degrees, while Sinovac, Sinopharm, and AstraZeneca can be kept in a refrigerator at 2-8 degrees.

Galvez said: “We intend to deploy the Pfizer, Sputnik V and Moderna vaccines to all provinces as soon as possible and distribute them even to rural areas. The receiving LGUs must be ready to handle these types of vaccines.”

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ON ITS way from the place of manufacture to the point of injection, the Pfizer vaccine will go through storage in ultra-cold freezers, thermal shipping containers, freezers, and refrigerators.

The storage temperatures at every stage must be checked each day and the records saved. Staff must have proper PPE and be trained to handle dry ice (solid cardo dioxide), which is used to maintain the correct temperature on the thermal shipping container.

Before mixing, the vaccine may be stored in an ultra-cold freezer between -80°C and -60°C. The vaccine vials are stored upright in the tray or box and protected from light. The vaccine may be stored until the expiration date. Et cetera….

We are mentioning some of the guidelines partly in light of items such as this Vera Files news on June 18 saying that a month after it was reported that more than 300 vials of COVID-19 vaccines were wasted in a North Cotabato town, the Department of Health has yet to find out who was liable and what caused the lapse.

“Based on their report, their recommendation was for further investigation because they don’t have sufficient information or evidence about what happened,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in Filipino in a June 18 media forum. “Let’s wait for (the outcome of) the investigation.”

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VERA FILES cited reports from the local government of Makilala that during a power outage on May 7, the vaccines were transferred from the municipal health office to a freezer in the police office run by a generator set.

It added: “Abdullah Dumama Jr., DoH undersecretary for field implementation in Visayas and Mindanao, said all health facilities ‘must have generator sets’ to ensure continued electric power supply in such emergencies.

“’Nobody noticed on Friday that the freezer was not switched back to the regular power supply. Saturday and Sunday were no work days,’ said Lito Cañedo, spokesperson of Makilala’s Inter-Agency Task Force on May 13, based on corroborated reports.

“’It was only on Monday morning (May 10) that it was discovered by the personnel in charge from the town health office,’ he added.

“Dumama was quoted by SunStar Davao saying: ‘We assume that there will be like that in every area. Because of power interruptions, we want that there will be standby generators that can take care of these vaccines. Not only vaccines but also medications that needed to be put in the refrigerator should be stored properly.’

“The health department has identified unstable power supply as one of the challenges in the COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan.”

In Makati City, Rep. Luis Campos Jr. warned that the impending unstable power supply in the Luzon grid until August, if left unchecked, could stoke inflation and set back the country’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 22, 2021)

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