Gripes aired over slow pace of COVID-19 vaccine rollout
MANILA, Philippines — Complaints are being raised against the slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the country, with fears that many of the precious shots may expire and go to waste before they are administered.
Nearly midway into 2021, only about 2.03 million Filipinos had been inoculated, way below the target of 58 million to 70 million for the country to achieve herd immunity.
More than 7.7 million doses of vaccines from various manufacturers had been delivered to the country, including 5 million donated and purchased Sinovac shots from China and 2.5 million jabs of AstraZeneca from the Covax global vaccine pool, according to Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje.
The total includes some shots from Gamaleya and Pfizer.
Figures from the Department of Health (DOH) show that 2.03 million Filipinos had been vaccinated, including 514,655 who got their second dose since vaccinations began on March 1.
Cabotaje said health authorities were aiming to increase the number of daily vaccinations.
“We are working from 30,000 [doses] per day last time. We are reaching 60,000 to 70,000 per day now. We hope we can reach 70,000 doses or higher,” she said.
With more than 1,000 vaccination centers currently in operation, Cabotaje said the goal of 100,000 daily injections was possible if each site could inoculate at least 100 individuals per day, she said.
She said during Wednesday’s Laging Handa briefing that 1,195,381 front-line health workers, 466,899 senior citizens, 353,842 people with comorbidities and 8,916 other essential workers had been vaccinated.
Only 2,538,693 shots had been administered nationwide, or about 32 percent of the total vaccine shots available in the country.
Cabotaje said only about three-fourths of the 1.5 million health workers had received at least one jab while 23 percent were still not vaccinated, many of them outside Metro Manila.
Only 6 percent of senior citizens out of the target of 7.7 million received a COVID-19 shot, the official said.
Isko is irked
Speaking on Tuesday night, the visibly irked mayor of Manila, Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, asked why it was taking a long time for vaccines to reach local governments and hospitals from the storage facilities run by the national government.
Domagoso said that vaccines allocated to the city either did not arrive or were delivered late. He also said Manila has yet to get its share of the 1.5 million Sinovac doses that arrived in the country on May 7.
“I don’t know if they’re still letting the vaccines grow inside their refrigerators,” he said. “There must be somebody who’s going to be liable because if you believe that vaccination is the solution to restart the economy, to bring back normalcy to people’s lives, the vaccines should not be stored for so long in different warehouses.”
“The global (vaccine) supply is unreliable, and it’s unreliable here because it’s so slow. I’m telling you now: the deployment is not slow, it’s superslow,” he said.
The mayor on Wednesday said the city would resume its vaccinations after it finally received 45,000 doses of AstraZeneca and 7,020 shots of Pfizer vaccines.
Former government pandemic adviser Dr. Tony Leachon warned that about 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine might end up wasted if left unused before their expiry dates.
He said 1,504,800 AstraZeneca shots from the Covax facility were due to expire on June 30 and on July 31 for more than 500,000 others.
He does not see all the shots being used up at the current 40,000-60,000 daily vaccination rate before the 1.5 million AstraZeneca shots expire in June.
“LGUs (local government units) are still loaded with Sinovac stocks. We have not yet finished the 3 million doses of Sinovac (and) are just half way through them. What a waste,” he told the Inquirer in an online interview.
Cabotaje allayed fears that the vaccines would be wasted, saying the DOH had secured commitments from regional offices and local governments to fully use up the doses for their intended beneficiaries.
Cause of delay
“The problem in the past was there was no vaccine that was available so they (LGUs) were hesitant about when to start and be aggressive in the rollout. Now that we have enough vaccine, I’m sure they will be happy to receive it,” Cabotaje said.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said one cause for the delay was the quality checks that vaccines needed to undergo before they leave a storage facility.
He said in an interview with a government radio station that a “certificate of analysis” would have to be processed prior to the vaccines’ release.
Cabotaje said that with the decision to administer all the remaining 1.5 million shots as first dose, all the AstraZeneca shots would be used up on time, including 13,920 doses that were to expire on May 31.
For Leachon, the slow rollout was not only a supply problem but also one that was compounded by logistical challenges and people’s lack of willingness to take the jab.
Leachon said a “solid strategic vaccine launch team” must have full understanding of logistics and distribution to carry out “the biggest public health effort in history.”
“We need vaccine awareness, promotion and good supply chain management to get the vaccines administered to as many, at the fastest time possible, and least amount of wastage,” he said.
Switching brands an option
He recommended that local governments switch from vaccinating Sinovac to AstraZeneca at this time, and open up other public vaccination sites such as mall parking lots.
Private businesses, like drugstores and office spaces, may be used temporarily to pick up the pace, he said.
Leachon said the government might want to offer to exchange the AstraZeneca doses, which are expiring soon, with those that the private companies have ordered and are expecting next month, although this might complicate the conditions set by Covax, which wanted the shots to go to the top three vulnerable sectors.
He said the government should then stop getting vaccines with very short shelf life if it was unsure that they could be administered on time.
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