Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto today urged Malacañang to appoint a vaccine czar who could solve the “importation to injection” challenges of getting the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) vaccine to 110 million Filipinos in a world where rich countries bankrolling their development would get them first.

recto 1 - Recto urges gov’t to appoint vaccine czar
Senate Ralph Recto
(Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Recto said naming the vaccine czar this early would also jumpstart the setting up of a “supply-to-syringe cold chain” as the vaccines have to be moved and stored in freezing temperatures in a tropical country that lacks infrastructure for it.

Although 170 candidate vaccines are in various stages of development, the World Health Organization (WHO) said only about two billion doses could be rolled out by the end of 2021.

“Ilan ang matitira para sa mga Pilipino? Countries who have sunk billions into their development have firm orders so they are first in line. Pang-ilan tayo sa mahabang linya?” Recto asked. 

(How many would be made available for Filipinos? Where is the Philippines in the long line up?)

Another hurdle, Recto pointed out, is that countries that have developed the vaccines might bow to “country first” pressure from their own people and practice “vaccine nationalism.”

Against this obstacle, we need a Filipino with “global stature, excellent connections, and diplomatic skills” to successfully place the orders and outsmart the competition, he said.

 “Bawal ang OJT dito.” (On the job training is banned here)

The other problems, he said, are “insular in nature,” after the first batches of vaccines have arrived.

 “First is the selection. Kasi ang unang wave may element talaga ng rationing. Sino pipiliin? What will be the selection guideline? It is already settled that medical personnel will be first on the line. Sino susunod?” Recto said. 

(Who will be given priority in the rationing? After the medical personnel, who will be next?)  

  “If the vaccines will be licensed to be produced here, do we have the infrastructure for that? And how fast can we scale up production?” Recto added.

But regardless of the source, the next big challenge is how to bring the vaccines to 110 million people in an archipelago lacking cold transport and storage facilities, Recto said.

“Like any frozen delight, the vaccine needs to be refrigerated. Filling the cold chain gap ranks high in the vaccine czar’s many duties,” he said.

Recto cited the recent warning by logistics giant DHL that “temperature requirements are likely to be the main challenge” to a COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Pharmaceutical giant Moderna said its vaccines must be stored at minus 20 degrees Celsius.

Pfizer, on the other hand, has notified the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that its vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

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