THE PHILIPPINE Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) is proposing a public-private partnership to set up the nationwide cold chain that will be needed for the distribution of the coronavirus vaccines.
In a statement on Wednesday, the country’s largest business group said a partnership with the government could entice more private sector investment in cold chain logistics.
“We need dedicated transport service and storage spaces to keep the integrity of the vaccines. These require massive investment and coordination, a herculean task that cannot be done by government alone,” PCCI President Benedicto V. Yujuico said.
PCCI noted that existing cold storage facilities around the country handle a variety of cargo like fish, meat, dairy, fruit, and vegetables, which could contaminate vaccines.
It added that these facilities could not handle the temperature requirement of some of the available vaccines for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The Pfizer vaccine, for example, needs to be stored at around -80°C to -60°C, while the Moderna vaccine requires a storage temperature of around -20°C.
“There are no facilities in the country that can handle -80°C. The lowest temperature our cold storage facilities can go down to is -20°C to 25°C. The same is true for refrigerated trucks,” Mr. Yujuico said.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire has said that private sector partners could convert existing freezers for vaccines that need to be stored at -20°C. Two private suppliers also said they would set up freezers for vaccines that need to be stored at temperatures between -70°C and -80°C.
PCCI said for its part, is currently making an inventory of existing storage facilities and consulting with businesses involved in cold and supply chains, transport, and power generation.
Napoleon L. Arevalo, director of the Health department’s Disease Prevention and Control Bureau, said talks with the private sector on supply chain management is part of the ongoing preparations for the vaccine distribution.
He said they will also start training health workers by the end of December for the immunization program.
Healthcare workers in hospitals will be among the priority sectors for vaccination.
“Kaya nga sinasabi natin na ang mga health workers kailangan natin mabakunahan agad-agad para hindi mag breakdown ang ating health system at patuloy ang ating mga serbisyo (That is why we have been saying that our health workers need to be vaccinated immediately to ensure that our health system will not break down and be able to continue providing service),” he said at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay on Wednesday.
The government will be prioritizing the vulnerable population in the vaccine distribution, including senior citizens and those working in closed settings such as the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and other uniformed personnel will also be prioritized, he said.
A senator, on the hand, is urging the government to include public school teachers, non-teaching staff and school administrators in the vaccination priority list.
Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate committee on basic education, arts, and culture, said prioritizing teachers is a crucial step in ensuring the safety of school premises and in building confidence for the gradual resumption of face-to-face classes.
He cited that the country’s more than 900,000 teachers and non-teaching staff have been serving as frontliners to ensure learning continuity for more than 22 million students since the pandemic struck early this year.
The government is planning to immunize 20 million individuals yearly for the next three years.
It is also negotiating with Chinese drug maker Sinovac Biotech Ltd. for the supply of vaccines, which is targeted to be delivered in March 2021.
Secretary Carlito G. Galvez, Jr., the appointed vaccine czar, said in an online briefing on Monday that they are in talks with Serum Institute of India Ptv. Ltd. for the supply of 30 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine it is developing with US biotechnology company Novavax, Inc.
Mr. Galvez also said they will be meeting with AstraZeneca next week to sign a contract for 20 million doses.
The private sector, the government, and AstraZeneca last month secured a deal for 2.6 million doses.
Four other drug makers are applying for clinical trial, including Chinese firms Clover Biopharmaceuticals and Sinovac, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, and Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology. — Jenina P. Ibañez, Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, and Vann Marlo M. Villegas