A fire broke out recently at the local health office of Zamboanga del Sur which damaged 148,678 doses of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines, authorities confirmed Tuesday, Nov. 2.
A joint statement from the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 and Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the Management of Infectious Diseases said the blaze occurred at the three-storey building of the Zamboanga del Sur Provincial Health Office on the night of Oct. 31.
The facility is being occupied by different offices and departments of the provincial government which also serves as the cold chain storage facility for COVID-19 vaccines allocated for 26 municipalities and one component city.
Based on initial reports, the fire destroyed 9,176 doses of AstraZeneca, 14,400 doses of Moderna, 88,938 doses of Pfizer, and 36,164 doses of Sinovac as well as routine immunization vaccines allocated for the province.
Accordingly, the AstraZeneca vaccines were allocated as second doses while the Moderna jabs were meant for the rollout of the pediatric inoculation of children and adolescents aged 12 to 17. Both were scheduled for deployment on Nov. 3.
Meanwhile, a quarter of the Pfizer vaccines were allocated for Pagadian City and were temporarily stored at the provincial cold storage since the city’s ultra-low freezer was already full. Half of the supply were meant for the province’s vaccination rollout while another quarter were scheduled for deployment to other local government units (LGUs.)
Lastly, the Sinovac jabs were not delivered immediately because they were refused by the LGUs which preferred a different brand.
“The National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 together with the Department of Health (DOH), the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the National Vaccination Operations Center (NVOC) are closely monitoring developments in the incident’s investigation,” read the joint statement which was signed by NTF chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr., IATF Chairman and DOH Sec. Francisco Duque III, NTF vice chair and DILG Sec. Eduardo Ano, and NTF deputy chief implementer Vivencio “Vince” Dizon.
They said that all government agencies “are on standby to provide immediate support” to the regional and local vaccination operation centers in Zamboanga Peninsula (Region 9).
The IATF and NTF officials said responders were already in the process of retrieving the vaccines which can still be used, unutilized refrigerators, carriers, and transport boxes.
The vaccine administration at the provincial and municipal level have also been rescheduled, they added.
“We would like to assure the residents of Zamboanga del Sur that the NTF and NVOC will replenish all the damaged vaccines especially those meant for citizens who are scheduled to get their second dose soon. The vaccine doses will be shipped immediately as soon as the new cold storage is ready for use,” the joint statement said.
An investigation was underway to determine the cause of the fire. A show cause order will also be issued to the provincial government of Zamboanga del Sur for their apparent failure to deliver the vaccines three days after the receipt of the supplies – which is the standard practice among LGUs.
“May this unfortunate incident be a reminder to all local government units to ensure the safety and security of these life-saving vaccines,” the task force officials said.
“Let us keep in mind that vaccines are gold, and one dose equals one life saved. Protecting and ensuring the safety of these vaccines should be a primordial concern of all levels in the government,” they added.