BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR and GERARD NAVAL
So far, so good.
This was how government officials described simulation exercises yesterday on the delivery and transfer of temperature-sensitive COVID-19 vaccines from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. led the mock exercises that included the unloading of vaccines from aircraft at NAIA and loading these to delivery trucks which were escorted by the police in going to the RITM where these would be stored before being delivered to other destinations.
There were also simulations for the transfer of the vaccines from the RITM to healthcare facilities in Metro Manila, and Cebu and Davao cities.
“Maganda iyung execution (The execution was good),” said Galvez, chief implementer of the National Task Force against COVID-19 (NTF). He said the government had expected the process to take about two hours.
Duque, in a press conference at the RITM, said they were satisfied with the logistics management preparedness of all agencies involved in the vaccination program.
“So far, so good,” said Duque, who also chairs the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
He, however, said the simulation activity will be reviewed by the NTF and the National Vaccination Operations Center, particularly the time spent on loading, unloading, transport, receiving, and inspection of the vaccines.
“We allocated the time of 120 minutes for the whole process. Hopefully, this will be cut by half, hopefully for 60 minutes. We need to improve further. The shorter the process, so much the better,” said Duque.
The simulation started with the arrival of the “vaccines” at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 2, and the inspection and clearing of the “doses.”
This was followed by the transport and delivery of the “vaccines” to the RITM cold storage facility in Muntinlupa City.
Duque said “vaccines” were also sent to the Philippine General Hospital in Manila, Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City, and Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Caloocan City.
Duque said there were also “vaccines” that were flown to the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City, and Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City.
Upon arrival of the shipment, the RITM warehouse staff simulated the storage, preparation for distribution, and proper loading of vaccines intended for deployment to other health facilities.
Galvez said they would review the simulation and tweak some procedures if needed, and conduct another exercise days before the actual arrival of the vaccine which he said is about the middle of this month for the first batch which will be 117,000 doses from Pfizer-BioNTech under the COVAX Facility.
He reiterated the Pfizer vaccine is “very delicate” and needs sub-zero temperature storage to prevent spoilage. He said the longer the vaccine stays outside the storage facility, the bigger the chances of wastage.
Duque said the 117,000 doses from Pfizer would be enough for some 58,500 health workers. Excess doses will be given to health workers in the military and police hospitals.
Duque also said that aside from healthcare workers, IATF-EID members are set to receive the first doses of vaccines, to help boost vaccine confidence among the public.
“Once the people see that IATF members are getting vaccinated, we believe that public confidence will surge,” he said.
Asked whether President Duterte will be among the first recipients as well, the health chief said, “Let’s respect the decision of the President. Whatever the decision is, we should respect that.”
Based on the government’s prioritization list, healthcare workers are set to get the first doses available in the country.
Duque said some 58,500 individuals will get the 117,000 vaccines from the COVAX Facility as each individual is allocated two doses.
“We already have the list of the thousands of healthcare workers from the Philippine General Hospital, Lung Center of the Philippines, Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital, Southern Philippines Medical Center, and Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center,” said Duque.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said five big private hospitals are also set to receive the first doses against COVID-19. She did not name the hospitals.
Duque also said there will be a quick substitute list in every designated vaccination center to ensure no vaccine will be wasted.
Among them, he said, are healthcare workers in neighboring hospitals.
“This is in order for hospitals to know who to call in case someone backs out or are unavailable,” said Duque.
Galvez, during the meeting with President Duterte on Monday night, said that apart from the Pfizer vaccines, more than 5 million doses of vaccines from AstraZeneca, also under the COVAX Facility, will be arrive this month.
The Philippines is aiming to buy 148 million doses for 50 million to 70 million adult Filipinos this year.
PUBLIC SCHOOLS, MILITARY CAMPS
President Duterte, on Monday night, said the government may use public schools as vaccination centers if there is not enough space for the inoculation program.
He previously said immunization may be held in police stations and military installations in far-flung areas but said these may not be big enough to accommodate large crowds.
The President said the police and the military should also help maintain order during vaccination campaigns especially in remote sitios and barrios.
Galvez said uniformed personnel will provide security during the transport of the vaccines.
Duterte appealed to the Communist Party of the Philippines not to hamper the delivery of the vaccines which he said were purchased using the people’s money.
“The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) must guarantee that the vaccines in the course of their being transported to areas where [there] are no city health officers or medical persons na huwag ninyong galawin ang medisina,” he said.
The CPP assured government of unhampered passage of vaccines but said they “strongly suggest” that government not involve military vehicles in the transport of the vaccines, and instead tap the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Philippine Red Cross and other civilian humanitarian agencies in bringing the vaccines to “interior areas.”
“We strongly suggest that COVID-19 vaccines not be transported in AFP military vehicles, especially those which are not properly marked and carrying armed soldiers. Over the past year, the AFP has been carrying out combat and psywar operations behind the veil of implementing COVID-19 restrictions,” it said.
AFP chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said land, sea and air assets of the Armed Forces will be used in the vaccination program. He said military doctors and nurses will also lend assistance.
He said people will see if he communists disrupt a “humanitarian activity.” — With Victor Reyes