Will 2021 be another write-off? (2)
Whether we get the virus under control or not, vaccinating a huge chunk of the population is the ultimate solution. I don’t know about anyone else, and I don’t want to sound harsh, but I’m worried that the intentions of government will not be achieved as planned. History bears me out on this concern.
The government has reported that it has signed supply deals for some 92 million doses (30 million Novavax, 20 million Moderna, 25 million Sinovac, and 17 million Astrazeneca). And there are discussions with the manufacturers to procure at least 71 million more this year (6 million J&J, 20 million Sputnik V, 25 million Pfizer, 15 million Novavax, and 5 million Moderna). If they all come, then that will be enough. But the country has received only a miserly 3 million doses so far. Indonesia has received 53.5 million doses as of March 25. We are far behind others in our actual procurement—when time is of the essence, when every day adds new cases and deaths.
We missed the boat because the government wouldn’t accept that they had to indemnify the manufacturers, since it was a vaccine given emergency use authorization as it didn’t go through the full testing normally required for a vaccine. Because of this delay, others got the vaccines, and we had to fall in line for our orders. Unfortunately, we don’t have a choice. Under normal circumstances, a government should never indemnify a private company’s product. But these are not normal circumstances; the world is in crisis mode.
Normally it takes up to 10 years to develop a vaccine. The fastest ever was the mumps vaccine, which took four years to develop. The “warp speed” development of the COVID-19 vaccines was achieved in 10 months, and done with governments cooperating by pouring money into the pharma companies. Inevitably that leads to the possibility of some risk that the companies can’t accept. If they were to do so, they’d have to insist on several years of trial and tests first to assure full safety—and then they could accept the risk. So, governments have accepted that stopping this virus and its citizens dying is a small price to pay to accept what’s likely to be a negligible risk anyway.
The private sector has stepped in and its initiative is to be lauded, with Joey Concepcion taking an audacious lead here in bringing the private sector together with government to jointly attack the virus with solutions. The government has been relieved of some of the burden by the private sector’s action in buying vaccines for staff and families. They should be fully supported to allow them to act directly and swiftly with as little government intervention as possible. All that are needed are FDA approval that the vaccines to be imported are approved products from acknowledged suppliers, and notification to the IATF for record purposes—not the bureaucratic nonsense that companies are now being saddled with.
The Philippines will need at least 140 million doses to double-inoculate its targeted 70 million people. Then it has to get those doses delivered through a far-from-advanced logistics system and jabbed into people by far too few health care workers trained to inoculate people.
On logistics, the problems have started before distribution of the vaccine has even begun. The government, rightly, decided to have the private sector do it. But the request to bid issued by the Department of Health (DOH) failed because the bidders couldn’t meet the poorly constructed request. There’s a second revised bid, but it might fail as it, too, has weaknesses in its construct.
As of yesterday, the second request for bids hasn’t been decided. And the way it’s going, the DOH may end up having to negotiate a contract. That, of course, can lead to all sorts of questions, particularly if the party negotiated with doesn’t have all the required facilities. The logistics company chosen needs to have temperature-controlled warehouses throughout the country, and refrigerated trucks. And enough people, or the ability to quickly hire and train them to handle the volume of shipments the government has planned. The chosen freight forwarder will be transporting medicines that need special, careful handling, so it must be FDA-approved. There are few that are, but I’m aware of only one. If one is chosen that isn’t, it puts the safety of the vaccines at risk. What happens to the vaccines when they arrive without competent logistics firmly in place? Time is running out.
Then there’s the reverse logistics—what to do with the used vials and needles, gloves and masks? They have to be properly, responsibly disposed of. Here, again, a private sector company needs to be hired to collect millions of these items and dispose of them in a safe manner. That company needs proven capability to do it.
It’s all leading to delay, when delay is what we cannot afford. Still more next week.
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