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A shot in the arm

/ 05:05 AM December 19, 2020

We are coming to the end of one of the most unusual years ever. We’ve had a volcano eruption, earthquakes, over 20 typhoons (including “Rolly,” and “Ulysses”), and, of course, COVID-19. All these crises have cost us dearly and had a deep impact on people and the economy.

An extended lockdown as a response to the pandemic has taken its toll—record unemployment, falling incomes, limited public transport and movement, and a decline in consumer confidence.

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As a result, GDP has declined 10.0 percent in the first three quarters (-16.9 percent in the second quarter and -11.5 percent in the third) and household consumption has dropped 16 percent. SWS reports that an average of 21.1 percent of families reported hunger over the year. Self-rated poverty has been reported at 48 percent, significantly higher than official figures suggest.

Against this backdrop comes news that COVID-19 vaccines have been developed in record time and approved for rollout.

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The private sector has been working with the government on Vaccine Logistics—the movement of vaccines, ancillary supplies, and personnel to identified vaccination centers, and the “reverse logistics” of moving all the used material for proper disposal. The movement will need to take place in a cold chain that requires three different temperature zones. People will need to be prioritized and identified and called in for vaccinations twice (most vaccines require two doses several weeks apart). All this will need to be done with perfect record-keeping, documentation, and robust information technology so supplies and movements can be tracked and patient records kept in order.

This requires coordination among government agencies, local governments, the private sector (including private hospitals and physicians), and civil society. This should be the greatest of all public-private partnerships.

The government has embarked on the right strategy to have a vaccine portfolio rather than relying on one or two vaccines. A portfolio assures that orders can meet the total requirements of the country. It also balances out the risk of ordering a vaccine that doesn’t meet regulatory approval (as of this writing, few have). Globally, the current leaders are Pfizer, AstraZeneca, J&J (Janssen), Moderna, and Novavax.

For logistics, it makes sense for the government to outsource distribution and supply chain management—including the information technology to track vaccines—to the private sector. This will be the largest mass vaccination program ever done in the country, over 10 times the magnitude of any regular vaccination program and far more complex because it involves a wider age range.

On the procurement and administration front, we should continue this public-private sector partnership model. Because most vaccine manufacturers will deal only with governments, the country should combine the resources of the national government, local governments, and the private sector in a pooled purchase. As vaccines are delivered, the government can allocate the prorated share of vaccines to local governments and the private sector and retain its share.

Both local governments and the private sector can handle vaccination administration on their own, following a previously agreed-upon allocation and prioritization of persons to be vaccinated. The government can handle frontliners, seniors, vulnerable sectors, and the urban poor, while the private sector can cover workers, contractors and subcontractors, and their families.

The advantage of such a system is that the country can purchase more and vaccinate more people, leading the way to herd immunity faster. What the government saves in vaccine procurement can be ploughed back into covering the administrative costs and service fees (e.g., personnel, PPE, ancillary supplies, etc).

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The benefits are clear. As more people are vaccinated, they can return to work and regain livelihoods, the economy can reopen, and consumer confidence can return.

The disadvantages of failing are just as clear. If other countries in ASEAN succeed where we fail, we’ll know where future foreign direct investments will be going. Our trade, tourism, and OFW sectors will all decline. We will become the pariah of the region.

We cannot afford to fail. We need to give our people, and our economy, a shot in the arm.

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Guillermo M. Luz is chief resilience officer of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (www.pdrf.org)
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Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).

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TAGS: 2020, COVID-19, disasters, Earthquake, health, pandemic, Taal eruption, typhoons, vaccine
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