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Vaccine delivery dry run goes well

/ 04:59 AM February 10, 2021

A dry run of the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines on Tuesday gave the public a peek into how the government would handle the highly perishable drugs.

But not knowing when exactly this month the first batch of 117,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine would arrive—the Feb. 15 arrival reported earlier is just an indicative date—the government could only do so much to prepare logistically.

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In the dry run, officials were most concerned about transporting the temperature-sensitive vaccines at the shortest time possible.

The plan

The plan was to carry the vaccines from Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 in Pasay City to the vaccine warehouse of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City. From there, the vaccines would be distributed to COVID-19 referral hospitals across Metro Manila.

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Dry runs were also conducted in Cebu City and Davao City on Tuesday, but it was unclear whether mock vaccines were also flown to Visayas and Mindanao islands, as the government plans to do.

Carlito Galvez Jr., who handles procurement for the government’s vaccination program, described the dry run as generally “smooth,” with the time allotted for every step of the delivery process significantly reduced—at least in Metro Manila.

From a Philippine Airlines plane, 23,400 empty vials of mock vaccines held in plastic-covered credo cubes were offloaded and then carried on forklifts onto reefer vans, or refrigerated vehicles, with temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius.

The mRna Pfizer vaccines require storage temperature of minus 80 degrees.

The vans, escorted by policemen, covered the distance of 21 kilometers from the airport to the RITM in 20 minutes.

Time halved

Galvez said half of the estimated actual time was saved because the Bureau of Customs had agreed to give advance clearance to the vaccine shipment and do away with the usual cargo inspection.

At the RITM, the offloading, receiving and inspection for storage in ultralow temperature freezers took 83 minutes, not the estimated 150 minutes.

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From the RITM warehouse, officials said, the loading of vaccines onto reefer vans that would carry them to hospitals or vaccination sites would take 30 to 45 minutes.

Galvez said there was “no room for error” in the rollout.

“The longer the vaccines stay outside the warehouse, the higher the possibility of spoilage, so we are trying to get the transport time even shorter,” he said.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III expressed satisfaction at how the practice went.

“So far so good. We were able to do it much faster than what was planned,” Duque said.

He said half of the Pfizer delivery would be stored for 21 days then administered to the recipients as they became eligible for their second shot.

‘Internal rehearsals’

Galvez said Tuesday’s dry run was only the first in a series to “perfect” the rollout, and succeeding “internal rehearsals” would be conducted because each vaccine brand had to be handled differently.

“All plans, more often than not, are excellent on paper,” Duque said. “But there is also a saying that the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

Earlier, the government said the first vaccines would be given to health workers in four COVID-19 referral hospitals in Metro Manila—Philippine General Hospital in Manila, Lung Center of the Philippines and East Avenue Medical Center in Quezon City, and Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Caloocan City.

But in a television interview on Tuesday, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said other hospitals in Metro Manila, as well as hospitals in Cebu City and Davao City, would also get vaccines for their staff.

Big hospitals run by local governments and some private hospitals could also receive vaccines, Vergeire said.

“We are talking about 58,500 doses, because we need to reserve the second dose of all these health-care workers,” she said.

New infections

With more than half a million confirmed cases and over 11,000 deaths, the Philippines is one of the countries in Asia hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, the Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,235 additional coronavirus infections, bringing the overall number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country to 540,227.

The DOH said 53 more patients had recovered, raising the total number of COVID-19 survivors to 499,764. But the death toll rose to 11,296, as 65 other patients had succumbed to the severe respiratory disease.

The deaths and recoveries left the country with 29,167 active cases, of which 88.6 percent were mild, 5.5 percent asymptomatic, 0.6 percent moderate, 2.6 percent severe, and 2.7 percent critical.

The DOH said it removed three duplicate cases from the total number of cases, and reclassified as deaths after review 59 cases that had been previously reported as recoveries.

With a report from Patricia Denise M. Chiu

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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