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Vaccine purchase must consider transport, expiration problems

These trying times of the coronavirus pandemic where national health is at stake should dissuade corruption.

Victor Avecilla

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The welcome news is that the Department of Health will purchase from abroad anti-Covid-19 vaccines with due consideration for safety and efficacy, hopefully over and above price tag concerns.

Public sentiment indicates a preference for the vaccines from the United States and the United Kingdom, over those from China and Russia. Safety and efficacy are the prime considerations as far as average Filipinos interviewed in surveys are concerned.

By this time, the public is probably aware that the anti-coronavirus vaccines require very low temperatures of about minus-70 degrees Celsius to remain safe and efficient. The slightest exposure of the vaccines, whether during storage or transport, to a higher temperature will render them ineffective. In that event, the public funds to be spent in purchasing them will simply go to waste.

Undoubtedly, therefore, the extreme low temperature is non-negotiable.

To state the obvious, it is not enough that the Philippines should have a sufficient number of cold storage facilities to house the vaccines. The Philippines should likewise have a nationwide cold storage transportation system capable of distributing the vaccines throughout the country without compromising their safety and efficacy.

Medical experts say that getting inoculated by a vaccine that has lost its efficacy may trigger the deadly disease in whoever has been so inoculated.

That is why it is imperative that before the Philippines actually purchases the vaccines, the government must be absolutely certain about having the required cold storage facilities for the vaccines, and the necessary cold storage transportation system to distribute the vaccines throughout the archipelago.

Any shortcut, no matter how economical it may seem, may be a deadly risk the government and the people cannot afford to take.

Having the right cold storage facilities in Metropolitan Manila is not enough. Those facilities must be protected against power outages and secured from saboteurs seeking to destabilize the government. Alternative facilities must be readily available in case some facilities being used conk out.

Vaccine distribution in Luzon may be done using specially constructed cold storage trucks. Distribution in the Visayas and Mindanao will require a combination of land, sea and air transportation with the same special cold storage capabilities.

Then there is the matter of the expiration dates of the vaccines to be acquired.

Considering the extremely delicate and cumbersome nature of storing and distributing the vaccines in the country, the government must see to it that the expiration dates of the vaccines are far enough in the future. Expired vaccines are just as useless and as dangerous as vaccines that breach the cold storage requirement. It will also be a waste of money.

From that perspective, it is advisable for the government to schedule vaccine deliveries at staggered but periodic intervals, so that there will be no undue rush to distribute the vaccines. Haste can actually lead to waste.

We should avoid a repetition of the bad experience the country had under the administration of then President Benigno Aquino III. During that time, anti-dengue vaccines purchased by the government turned out to be soon-to-expire supplies. It was Senator Richard Gordon who exposed that health-threatening and wasteful anomaly.

The anticipated purchase in bulk of anti-Covid-19 vaccines, and their storage and distribution throughout the country, are not just fraught with the foregoing health risks. Just by the overwhelming amount of money involved, one can already imagine the temptation for Health department and local government officials to engage in corruption.

These trying times of the coronavirus pandemic where national health is at stake should dissuade corruption. Unfortunately, however, hopelessly corrupt politicians and government bureaucrats do not care about anything else other than their personal gain — even if they are well-aware that the vaccines will be bought by money obtained from big loans the Philippines is forced to obtain, and will have to pay for. Therefore, any corruption involving the vaccines should be considered an unpardonable crime against the Filipino people.

Accordingly, President Rodrigo Duterte should put his foot down and threaten the use of the full force of the law against anybody involved in any corruption in the acquisition, storage and distribution of the anti-Covid-19 vaccines.

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