DOH to ensure all regions able to handle Pfizer vaccines before August

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said on Monday, June 21, that the Department of Health (DOH) will ensure that all regions have the capacity to roll out Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine before August, when the bulk of the country’s orders are scheduled to start arriving. 

“We are ensuring that all regions will be prepared. There are no favorites, (allocation) is based on need and based on the prioritization framework,” Vergeire said in a press briefing. 

The Philippines recently signed its largest vaccine deal to secure 40 million Pfizer doses for the country’s vaccine drive in 2021. Additional doses are expected to boost the government’s vaccine campaign and ease operational issues caused by erratic and limited vaccine supplies. 

Vergeire said that to date, five regions are still incapable of handling Pfizer’s vaccine, which requires stringent storage and transportation conditions at -80 to -60 degrees Celsius. These include the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM),  Caraga, Soccsksargen, Bicol region, and Mimaropa. 

During the briefing, DOH Undersecretary Abdullah Dumama said that BARMM is set to prioritize a resolution that would allow the region to procure the required ultra low freezers for Pfizer’s shot, along with other needs to strengthen testing facilities. Dumama is responsible for overseeing the pandemic situation in the Visayas and Mindanao. 

Initial doses of Pfizer’s vaccine received through the COVAX global vaccine sharing faciltiy had been allocated to Metro Manila, Cebu City, and Davao City – areas considered “high risk” and where ultra low freezers are available. 

'No favorites'

On Monday, Vergeire said that vaccines shipped to the country will continue to be allocated, following the government’s prioritization framework and in response to geographical risk – in areas where increases in infections have been reported. 

“We do not pick. Whatever vaccines arrive, those are what we give,” Vergeire said in Filipino, adding, “These vaccines that arrive, as long as they have EUAs (emergency use authorizations) from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and our experts have evaluated them, they are considered effective for you.” 

Not playing favorites

Vergeire likewise denied claims that the government had favored regions like Davao in the distribution of Pfizer’s vaccine. A recent shipment of 2.27 million Pfizer shots had been divided, with 210,600 doses going to Davao region and Cebu region, respectively, while remaining doses were distributed to Metro Manila and nearby provinces. 

“When vaccines arrive, we do not think about which areas should receive this specific vaccine. We need to provide them immediately so whatever arrives...the vaccine cluster will allocate this to local governments identified,” she said. 

“It is based on our need. It is not based on preference or other criteria,” she added.

Deputy chief implementer Vince Dizon earlier told lawmakers in the Senate that about 55% of vaccines were allocated for “NCR Plus 8” areas, including Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal, Laguna, Pampanga, Batangas, Metro Davao, and Metro Cebu. These areas, considered economically critical to the country, have seen the bulk of COVID-19 cases.

The other 45%, Dizon said, were distributed to other areas of the country, including other areas outside NCR Plus 8 that have seen an increase in infections in recent weeks. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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