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MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte’s adviser for entrepreneurship said on Saturday, April 2, that around 27 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine will expire in July.
“Time is of the essence. This is why I am calling it out now while there is still time before these vaccines expire. If we don’t use these vaccines, we will have wasted the Filipino taxpayers’ money,” Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion said.
Concepcion noted that the country’s debt has recently breached the P12-trillion mark primarily because of massive borrowing to address the pandemic. He said the country had borrowed at least P2 trillion, with most of it going to vaccines.
“We, in the private sector, bought our own supplies through the A Dose of Hope tripartite agreement, and we shared these with the government because we know that vaccines are the solution to battling this pandemic,” Concepcion, who is also the founder of GoNegosyo, said.
During the government’s Laging Handa briefing on Saturday, Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje explained that the vaccines arrived during the last two months of 2021 and in January 2022.
“Unang-una, dumating po nang sabay-sabay ng end of November, December, and January iyong mga prenokyur ng ating national government. Iyong prenokyur ng ating private sector at saka local government unit, tapos iyong mga donation,” the health official said.
(First, the vaccines our national government procured arrived at the end of November, December, and January. These include the ones procured by the private sector, the local government, including the donations.)
Cabotaje added: “Kung mas maaga sana na nai-distribute natin at nai-bakuna iyan. Ang problema, karamihan sa kanila ay short expiry – iyong tinatawag na short life.“
(If only we distributed those earlier and used them to vaccinate. The problem is that majority of the vaccines are what we call short expiry or short life.)
The delivery of near-expiring vaccines has been a frequent issue raised by many developing countries, highlighting the logistical difficulties of distributing shots with short shelf lives. While in need of shots, fragmented distribution networks and a lack of manpower, among other reasons, have bogged down efforts to quickly vaccinate populations in lower and lower middle income countries like the Philippines.
Before Concepcion’s statement, the DOH in late February said it was coordinating with vaccine manufacturers on possibly extending the shelf life of vaccines delivered to the country.
In recent months, additional stability data on vaccines prompted the United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) to allow extensions for vaccines developed by Johnson and Johnson and Pfizer and BioNTech. The decision also allowed for the update of expiration dates.
“Vaccines that are authorized under an EUA do not have fixed expiration dates, and their expiration dates may be extended based on data submitted by the manufacturers,” the US FDA said.
What’s the government’s plan?
During the same briefing, the DOH official said that the government is planning to donate some of the expiring vaccines to neighboring countries.
“Yes, we have initially considered to donate some of our vaccines to our nearby neighbors. Pinag-uusapan pa iyan ng DFA at saka iyong mga concern natin na mga bansa. Iyong mga dinonate sa atin, we are also coordinating with the COVAX kung puwedeng i-redeploy. Kung hindi na, iyong mga hindi pa magbabakuna idi-distribute pa rin natin sa buong bansa,” Cabotaje said.
(The Department of Foreign Affairs and concerned neighbors are discussing that. The ones donated to us, we are also coordinating with the COVAX if we can redeploy. If not, we will still distribute it in the country.)
As of Friday, April 1, the government said at least 67 million Filipinos are fully vaccinated. The government’s target is to vaccinate 90 million Filipinos by June 2022. – with reports from Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler.com