A HOUSE leader on Monday urged the government to prepare early for the storage and distribution of the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) vaccines.
House Assistant Majority Leader and Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito Castelo’s appeal is contained in House Bill (HB) 8000, which mandates that the state “shall amply prepare cold storage facilities for storing and safekeeping of COVID-19 vaccines in anticipation of their arrival and mass distribution to the Filipino people.”
The bill empowers the Department of Health (DoH) to “urgently prepare for the provision” of such facilities “in accordance with specifications that are suitable for the safekeeping of the vaccines.”
Now that several drug companies have reported that their vaccines against the new coronavirus have an efficacy rate of 70 percent to 95 percent, Castelo said many countries are ramping up preparations for receiving and distributing vaccines to their people.
“Considering that our country is a populous nation and is an archipelago, a safe and effective mass distribution of the vaccine requires ample planning and preparation,” Castelo said.
Castelo said it is the intention of her bill to “provide sufficient and appropriate cold storage equipment and facilities” for the arrival and delivery of COVID-19 vaccination doses.
She noted that President Rodrigo Duterte wants at least 20 million poor Filipinos to receive free inoculation against the virus.
She pointed out that transporting, storing and distributing the vaccine would be a big challenge, “assuming that vaccine makers have already agreed to sell to us and we have already paid for their product.”
“I suppose we will get it from them. So how do we safely transport it? By plane? How many planes or flights are needed to ferry vaccines for 20 million Filipinos? Once it is here, where do we store it? How do we deliver it to the provinces, to remote communities? These are some of the questions that need answers,” Castelo said.
She said the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that at least 8,000 747 Jumbo freighters would be needed to transport COVID-19 vaccines around the world.
IATA described shipping those doses as the “largest transport challenge ever” the industry would face.
Castelo said based on information on the Internet, vaccines can be stable for 30 days at temperatures ranging from two degrees to eight degrees Celsius.
Longer storage would require temperatures below freezing point so vaccines won’t spoil, she said.
“Establishing or finding safe storage facilities with such specification and standard in Metro Manila, the regions and in provinces, cities and towns, will be a big problem for the DOH,” she said.
She suggested that the DOH tap government agencies and private companies with such facilities and seek donations such as coolers and ice to save on cost.
“Assuming we have the necessary cold storage equipment and infrastructure, the next question is: do we have enough trained medical personnel to inoculate our people against COVID-19?” Castelo asked.