A WEEK before the expected arrival of the first batch of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines in the country, the government is set to conduct today a simulation activity on the arrival and deployment of the doses.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire the simulation activity will begin with the arrival of the vaccines sourced from the COVAX Facility at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and its transport to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), “which is our central hub for vaccines.”
“In our planned simulation, it will just take 20 minutes from the NAIA to the RITM warehouse,” said Vergeire.
Upon arrival at the RITM warehouse, the temperatures of the vaccines will be checked to see if there will be changes.
“What will be most important is for us to maintain the potency of the vaccines,” Vergeire said.
The country is expecting vaccines from the US firm Pfizer Inc and the UK’s AstraZeneca PLC from the COVAX Facility. Pfizer’s vaccine requires a storage temperature of about minus 70 degrees Celsius while AstraZeneca’s needs only normal refrigerated conditions of about 2-8 degrees.
Vergeire said there will also be simulation activities in three COVID-19 referral hospitals — Philippine General Hospital in Manila, Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City, and Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Caloocan City.
“We have a simulation tomorrow (Tuesday) with our three big hospitals so that we can see the flow and make sure that there will be no vaccine wastage,” said Vergeire.
“Our hospitals are already ready to receive these vaccines,” she added.
From the regional and local government hubs of the vaccines, Vergeire said they will ensure that all hospitals will be ready to receive the doses.
“We will give all hospitals enough time to formulate a plan on when will the vaccines be brought to them,” said the official.
And on the day of vaccination itself, she said hospitals are only given five days to use all doses allocated to them with the vials kept at rooms with temperature of 2 to 8 degrees.
“Once the vials are opened, they have to be consumed within six hours,” Vergeire said.
Yesterday, Malacañang declared readiness to receive the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX Facility, which committed to send the doses by “mid-February.”
Several local government units have conducted simulation exercises in the past weeks.
Mayors Joy Belmonte of Quezon City, Oscar Malapitan of Caloocan City, and Toby Tiangco of Navotas City and presidential spokesman Harry Roque reminded the public the availability of vaccines does not mean health protocols will be relaxed or quarantine restrictions will be eased.
Roque said the government expects the inoculation in Metro Manila to start days after the first batch of vaccines to arrive middle of this month.
He could not say the exact date of arrival but said government is ready to implement the vaccination program by Monday next week.
Metro Manila, to which Quezon, Caloocan, and Navotas cities belong, is under general community quarantine (GCQ) until February 28.
Quezon and Caloocan cities target to vaccinate about a million of their constituents.
Tiangco said the vaccine is not a replacement for health protocols, which means “even if we are vaccinated we continue to wear face mask, we continue to observe social distancing, tuloy we continue handwashing.”
Malapitan said the city needs at least 1,600 vaccinators for at least 1.1 million of its adult residents for a seven-day vaccination period. Caloocan has about 1.87 million residents including minors.
He said 54 vaccination centers have been identified in the city and a cold chain storage has been bought to store the vaccines it purchased from AstraZeneca, which are expected to arrive by the third quarter of the year.
Tiangco said Navotas also plans to buy vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna Inc.
Makati Mayor Abby Binay said the city government has procured 42 biomedical refrigerators and laboratory freezers to ensure proper storage of the vaccines.
“As we wait for the vaccines to arrive, the city government is preparing the vaccination sites, vaccine depots, and other logistic needs for cold chain management. I assure everyone that we are doing our best to achieve a 100 percent vaccination rate in Makati,” she said.
Binay said the vaccine refrigerators and freezers will be housed in a vaccine depot being built at the City Hall quadrangle.
The Makati Health Department targets to finish the preparation of the site next week, she said.
Residents and non-residents who work in Makati who will be vaccinated will undergo online registration, counseling, screening, vaccination, and post-vaccination monitoring.
The House committee on ways and means committee chaired by Albay Rep. Joey Salceda approved in principle a substitute bill that would exempt COVID-19 vaccines from duties and value-added tax (VAT).
Salceda said that while the House-approved proposed Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Act exempts COVID-19 vaccines from VAT and from import duties, there is a need to approve a consolidated measure explicitly exempting the vaccines from taxes because “there is some room (in the CREATE bill) for interpretation on whether the duties apply to all importers or only to registered enterprises.”
“That is especially because we were only dealing with duty incentives in that bill. So, we want to make sure vaccines can be imported duty-free and without friction at the ports.
That is why we are taking these bills up,” Salceda said.
The panel will prepare a consolidated version of bills exempting the vaccines from tax: House Bills 8301, 8324, 8375, 8376, and 8584.
Salceda said that all economic policy during COVID-19 must be geared towards being a bridge to a COVID-19 vaccine.– With Jocelyn Montemayor, Noel Talacay and Wendell Vigilia