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Vaccine czar must for PH

Man gets a flu shot at a health facility in Washington, DC. US health officials are pushing Americans to get vaccinated against the flu to help prevent hospitals already busy battling Covid-19 from being overwhelmed this winter, but false claims are threatening their efforts. Misinformation on social media, particularly that a flu shot will increase the risk of contracting the coronavirus or cause you to test positive for Covid-19 -- it won't -- is undermining the public health message. EVA HAMBACH / AFP

SENATE President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto has urged Malacañang to appoint a “vaccine czar” who can solve the “importation to injection” challenges of getting the COVID-19 vaccine to 110 million Filipinos in a world where rich countries bankrolling their development will get them first.

Naming the vaccine czar this early 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, Recto said.

Although 170 candidate vaccines are in various stages of development, the World Health Organization said only about two billion doses can be rolled out by the end of 2021.

“Ilan ang matitira para sa mga Pilipino? Countries who have sunk billions into their development have firm orders so they are first in line. Pang-ilan tayo sa mahabang linya?” Recto said.

Another hurdle, Recto pointed out, is that countries who have developed the vaccines may bow to “country first” pressure from their own people and practice “vaccine nationalism.”

Against this obstacle, we need a Filipino with “global stature, excellent connections and diplomatic skills” to successfully place the orders and outsmart the competition, he said. “Bawal ang OJT dito.”

The other problems, he said, are “insular in nature”, after the first batches of vaccines have arrived.

“First is the selection. Kasi ang unang wave may element talaga ng rationing. Sino pipiliin? What will be the selection guideline? It is already settled that medical personnel will be first on the line. Sino susunod?” 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?” Recto added.

But regardless of the source, the next big challenge is how to bring the vaccines to 110 milllion people in an archipelago lacking cold transport and storage facilities, Recto said.

“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, “malayo sa universal coverage target na 110 million.”

“Delivery is just one aspect. Hindi pa kasama ang post-inoculation monitoring kasi 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.”

“Pero yung pricing nila na P307.50 per dose, or P615 per person kasi two doses kailangan, sana magkatotoo, kasi mura na ‘yan compared to the projected price quoted in news reports,” he said.

“Ang susunod na decision point ay sino ang tatanggap ng libre, sino ang subsidized at sino ang full pay?” Recto said.