Preventing vaccine spoilage

Published June 3, 2021, 12:21 AM

by Senator Francis Tolentino


Senator Francis N. Tolentino

The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) has placed the entire Luzon grid under red alert due to insufficient power supply.

As rotational brownouts loom due to low power reserves brought by high electricity demand, this latest electricity shortage can hamper the national government’s ongoing vaccination drive against the global coronavirus pandemic since power outages can lead to vaccine spoilage.

According to NGCP, the current available capacity in the Luzon grid is at 11,729 megawatts while the daily demand peak reached as high as 11,514 megawatts in the past seven days.

With this latest development, does the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) have any contingency plan to protect the designated storage facilities—which houses the different brands of vaccines purchased by the government—from these expected rotational brownouts?

We should take note that each brand of vaccines has different temperature preferences. It should be noted that there are vaccines which demand temperatures as low as -80°C, especially the ones manufactured using the mRNA technology.

Are the standby generators inside the storage facilities good enough to temporarily energize its freezers in case of power outages, and for how long? Based on the national government’s assessment, the bulk of COVID-19 vaccines that were purchased overseas are expected to arrive by August, and the said month is traditionally the peak of the so-called ‘Typhoon Season’ in the Philippines.

As the Philippines is expected to begin vaccinating its ‘adult population’ in August to finally achieve the so-called ‘herd immunity,’ the government must prepare for the worst as PAG-ASA earlier estimated that 10 to 12 typhoons may enter our country from August until November—on the average of 2 to 3 typhoons each month. More typhoons mean more potential power outages which can spoil the vaccines if there are not enough generator sets deployed in the government’s storage facilities.

Meanwhile, it should be noted that all of these vaccines have limited shelf life and must be used as soon as possible once they arrive here in our country.

Although the government is currently prioritizing those in the A1 to A3 category in its vaccination efforts, a number of vials in various vaccination outposts remain unutilized due to the brand preference of some of our fellow Filipinos.

There are lots of our countrymen who are willing to be inoculated regardless of the vaccine brand but not included in the government’s priority list. The number of people who wants to get vaccinated outweighs the number of those who are still hesitating to get their jabs.

Using the “Waterfalls policy”, the IATF could re-allot the reserved vaccines for those who belong to A2 and A3 categories who refused to get their jabs.

If those in A3 clusters refuse, then give it to A4. If those in the A4 cluster refuse, then give it to A5. If those in A5 refuse, then give it to B1. In no time, all the vaccines would be utilized. This would not only help hasten the vaccination efforts and utilize all available COVID jabs, but also prevents it from possible spoilage.

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the United States’ National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, people should not cherry-pick the brand of vaccine they receive.

He warned that “the longer someone waits to get vaccinated, the better chance the virus has to get a variant or a mutation.”

For Fauci, the best vaccine is the one that’s available.  We Filipinos should do the same.