Plans all set for PH vaccination program

Published November 6, 2020, 4:38 PM

by Manila Bulletin

It is still a long way before the world expects to have a vaccine for the COVID-19 pandemic. But when it finally comes, probably around January, 2021, the Philippine government already has plans for its acquisition, distribution, implementation, assessment, and monitoring.

President Duterte has appointed as “vaccine czar” Carlito Galvez Jr., now chief of the National Task Force against COVID-19. We already have a system of hospitalization and quarantine under the Department of Health led by Secretary Francisco Duque. The Department of Science and Technology led by Secretary Fortunato dela Peña is handling some aspects of the medical program.

When the vaccine comes, it will be an entirely new operation apart from the hospitalization of those who have been infected by the virus. Vaccination will be for those who have not been infected so far, and they make up a far greater number of the population.

Since his appointment last Monday, Galvez has and his team have already come up with a program of action. The first part – from November, 2020, to March, 2021, calls for scientific evaluation and acquisition of guarantees for potential vaccines.

From January to March, 2021, the vaccine will be acquired from abroad, shipped to the Philippines, and stored; distributed and deployed to various parts of the country; and then actual vaccination will begin, along with constant monitoring and evaluation.

Funds have been set aside for the initial 40 million doses of vaccine, good for 20 million people. That is less than a fifth of our population of 110 million, but the government should be able to come up with funds for more vaccines in succeeding months.

Very likely, Galvez said, the earliest we can acquire a vaccine is March up to May, 2021. Final trials are underway on three or four of the most advanced vaccines, including that being developed by AstraZeneca of the United Kingdom. We also have offers from China and Russia for them to share their vaccine supplies. Talks are also underway with Singapore, South Korea, and Japan.

When the vaccine supplies come, they will need to be properly stored until the actual vaccinations are underway, and pharmaceutical giants Zuellig Pharma and Unilab have been contacted for use of their cold chain storage facilities.

So many details need to be attended to and the early appointment of a “vaccine czar” in the person of Galvez and the early planning by his team assures us that this is one program that will be carried out with all due haste and urgency as the pandemic threat demands.

We may not have the best record of COVID-19 treatment in Southeast Asia, but we are far better off than many other countries – the United States, India, Brazil, Russia, France, and Spain – where the cases continue to mount and the virus is rolling up a second wave of infections and deaths.