Logistics sector hits gov’t handling of COVID-19 vaccines

The logistics sector has urged the government to tap the private sector storage and logistics expertise because they have enough capacity to handle the different temperature requirements of COVID-19 vaccines if only government will give the business to industry players and not do it on their own.

Michael Raeuber, chairman of the country’s largest integrated logistics firm Royal Cargo,  lamented in an interview with Manila Bulletin Business that government is doing everything when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, even the sourcing of transportation, setting aside the private sector’s expertise.

Michael Raeuber, chairman of the country’s largest integrated logistics firm Royal Cargo.

 “Anytime,” said Raeuber when asked if Royal Cargo and other players can accept storage and handling of COVID-19 vaccines. The problem is, he said, the government has not tapped the private sector and has not organized the supply chain. “There is no such thing as of now. The way I see it is government is trying to control everything, including the sourcing of transportation, apparently there is no private sector participation, no jobs given to anybody, not to my knowledge,” Raeuber said.

Pfizer requires minus 70 degrees Celsius, but Royal Cargo has storage capacity for minus 80 degrees. The company has also unlimited capacity for Astra, which has temperature storage requirement of 2-8 degrees. Royal Cargo has also roughly 200 reefer trucks with generator sets that can be mounted on these units to ensure that temperature can go down to as low as 35 degrees. “We could pack Moderna vaccines in these containers and bring them anywhere in the country even in areas with no electricity, the only thing you need is diesel,” he added.

Royal Cargo’s P50 million cold storage capacity expansion at its main headquarters in Paranaque, just a walking distance from the international airport, is ongoing and is expected for completion in time for the arrival of the vaccines in this first quarter. (See related story: https://mb.com.ph/2021/01/02/royal-cargo-expands-facility-to-accommodate-vaccines/)

According to Raeuber, Royal Cargo has rotating capacity to handle the vaccines because it does not mean that everything will have to come at one time. “Let’s just say that if government asks for 800,000 units for Metro Manila in one day, we can handle that and then replenish and open to receive more, but you see this supply chain has to be organized,” he said.

Aside from Royal Cargo, he mentioned that pharmaceutical company Zuellig has also the capacity to handle COVID-19 vaccines, but it should be the government that should assign the task to the private sector.

Raeuber noted that during a virtual vaccine debate, the government even erroneously stated that vaccines are only permitted or approved for emergency use, which means it is under full control of the government. 

“Number one, I don’t think that is correct because most of big vaccines have already been approved by many countries for use, not unrestricted use, not only for emergency use, and secondly, is government so effective that they can do all these by themselves,” he said.

He said the government should find out what the private sector can do and, secondly seek partnership with the private sector.

“Do not underestimate the power of capitalism and commerce,” Raeuber stressed as he pointed out the already established pharmaceutical distribution system by various pharmaceutical firms with their own representative companies in the country.

“There is a complete private distribution system in the country already, tap this,” he urged noting that government doing it on their own is not efficient.

Raeuber has called for urgency on the inoculation of the population because of the dangers of the new strain of the virus. “Imagine with this more dangerous variation of COVID coming here and catch us by surprise so we really really have to accelerate this vaccination as soon as possible to prevent something like that to happen,” he said citing resurgence of infections in the EU and the US.

According to Raeuber the cost of COVID-19 vaccines varies. He said Moderna is between $25-35 while Pfizer is in the middle of $20-$15. Astra Zeneca is the cheapest at only $2.50 dollar, approximately P150 only, because it was developed by Oxford University and was given to Astra Zeneca, a British pharma company, on condition they have to keep the price down.