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“We need to learn from this experience,” said Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion as he and independent medical experts put forward suggestions during the Go Negosyo town hall meeting “Navigating from Pandemic to Endemic” held last June 29.
“There are clearly several gaps that led to the expiry of the vaccines,” Concepcion said, referring to the expiry of millions of Covid-19 vaccines worth billions of pesos just days after the Department of Health (DOH) allowed the use of second boosters for adults 50 years and older, and those 18 to 49 years with comorbidities. “Some of those gaps we tried to point out, such as the need to listen to the science coming from abroad, and to act swiftly considering that our economy is on the line,” he said.
In April this year, Concepcion sounded the alarm on the millions of Covid vaccines that are nearing their expiry date. “The DOH, who has visibility on the inventory, could have stepped in,” said Concepcion. “It would just be a simple computation as the expiry dates are very clear. They knew the levels we all had, from both the private sector, government procurements and donations from abroad,” he said.
As of June 26, there are 29,795,970 available doses in the national cold chain facility, with more than four million confirmed to expire by July 31. Concepcion said that the DOH, having the pertinent data, could have guided accordingly to the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC). Down the line, guidelines for implementation should have been issued just as swiftly.
Speaking during the townhall meeting, Dr. Ted Herbosa, the special adviser of the National Task Force Against Covid-19 and an expert on disaster and emergency medicine, said that moving forward, the DOH Secretary should, with the aid of an executive committee, be able to override decisions in consideration of an emergency situation. He also noted that all throughout the pandemic, there were several bodies that were advising the government, with some even having overlapping functions. Moreover, he observed that the HTAC, having been formed less than a year before the Covid outbreak, lacked the experience to handle the pandemic.
“The lack of planning led to the loss of the vaccines,” said OCTA Research’s Prof. Ranjit Rye, speaking at a separate forum at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center last July 28. “The government should now define a comprehensive national Covid-19 strategy or exit plan that would guide national and local government and private sector on how to respond and recover from the pandemic.”
Philippine College of Physicians president Dr. Maricar Limpin said the government should also weigh matters carefully as the State of Public Health Emergency expires this September. “We have not done the necessary preparations… the vaccines are still under EUA,” she said. Thus, the government must decide whether or not to keep the Emergency Use Authorization for Covid vaccines or encourage the pharmaceutical companies to apply for Certificates of Product Registration. This will ensure that Covid vaccines will remain available to the public, whether commercially or through government procurement and donations.
Dr. Nina Gloriani, chairman of the Vaccine Experts Panel, emphasized that boosters are needed to keep immunity at sufficient levels. “Primary series are not sufficient at this time, especially with the emergence of variants,” she said. OCTA Research’s Dr. Guido David observed that while the growth rate in Covid cases is steady, it might be prolonged and take longer than initially expected, and could be attributed to waning immunity and/or subvariants.
“We need to keep healthcare utilization rates down so the economy stays open. A sure way of doing this is strengthening our wall of protection, especially against variants,” said Concepcion.
Concepcion believes that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s plan to establish the Philippine Center for Disease Prevention and Control is a good idea, and that it should be headed by the Secretary of Health.
Moreover, Concepcion also thinks future vaccination programs should be confined to only two brands to make future private sector procurements more streamlined with the government. And as the State of Public Health Emergency expires this September, there must be a plan on whether vaccines will still be under Emergency Use Authorization, or will be granted Certificate of Product Registration. “We will support the vaccination, but the roadmap needs to be clear,” said Concepcion.