Cold chain group offers help, awaits word from gov’t
MANILA, Philippines — The government is expecting the first shipment of the vaccine for COVID-19 next month but the country’s cold storage operators, who could have key roles in the distribution of the potentially life-saving shots, are still awaiting official word from the authorities on how they could contribute to control the pandemic.
The country’s biggest cold-chain association had expressed its willingness to play a major role in the storage of coronavirus vaccines in partnership with the government.
Anthony Dizon, president of the Cold Chain Association of the Philippines (CCAP), told the Inquirer on Thursday that no one from the government had formally reached out to his sector for help, leaving it out in the cold, unsure about whether it must now prepare the equipment to store vaccines.
“We have on several occasions already manifested our capability and willingness to be part of the vaccine distribution program,” Dizon said in an interview. “We have spoken with some people in [the] government to deliver the same message but up to now, there has been no active coordination from any agency or government involved in this vaccine program expressing intention to link up with the private sector.”
The government expects to receive the first vaccine made by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech on Feb. 20, according to Carlito Galvez Jr., who is in charge of the government’s vaccination program.
Also expected to be delivered next month are shots developed by American and German scientists and produced by Pfizer-BioNTech.
Sinovac’s vaccine requires storage in -2 to -8 degrees Celsius while Pfizer-BioNTech’s requires ultracold -80 C to -70 C.
Only Pfizer-BioNTech has received an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration as of this time.
Based on CCAP’s estimates, 50 million doses of vaccines could easily be stored in a total of 1,000 pallets or containers. The group’s 37 member-companies have a total available capacity of 500,000 pallets nationwide.
It would cost about P10.8 million to store 50 million vaccine shots for six months, the group said.
Dizon said the association “could commit at least one company that can handle -71 C.”
The Parañaque City company, which stores pharmaceutical products, can hold up to 2 million doses, he said.
He said the group’s members normally store food, mainly meat, and cater to restaurants and supermarkets.
Members who store ice cream have freezers capable of temperatures down to -20 C.
Dizon said food products should not be stored “side by side” with vaccines, and his group’s members would set aside separate storage rooms for the shots.
Ball in gov’t court
He said, however, that the ball was still in the government’s court and his group was awaiting details of official vaccine storage and distribution plans.
A Senate hearing set for Friday to tackle such plans would be attended by CCAP members.
The plans are expected to include a timeline—from the vaccine’s arrival, storage and distribution—and a census of the storage centers operated by the government and the private sector.
Industry officials who spoke with the Inquirer said the government didn’t have enough infrastructure for vaccine safekeeping.
Dizon said CCAP, until now, has been kept in the dark about the government’s plans, but pledged that once they are called upon to play a role, “from a patriotic sense of duty, we will support the government.”
“The planning horizon will depend on the factors that would need our participation which we still don’t know yet,” he added.
Galvez, who is also chief implementer of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, said on Wednesday that the country could handle the vaccine rollout with the cooperation of the private sector.
He said the state-run Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) had cold storage capacity of -70 C to -20 C.
Health-care service providers like Zuellig and other pharmaceutical companies had purchased cold storage, including mobile freezers that could hold about 100,000 shots. Each costs about $15,000.
Vaccines that require ultracold storage such as those produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna would come into the country in small quantities and deployed immediately with help from the military’s logistics units, Galvez said.
He said many private companies, particularly the Pangilinan and the Ayala groups, were providing experienced supply chain managers and consultants to help the government in its mass immunization program.
In addition to RITM, the Philippine General Hospital and San Lazaro Medical Center would also be provided with cold storage facilities. —WITH A REPORT FROM JEROME ANING
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