COVID-19 vaccines

Sinovac doses wasted in Cotabato; DOH orders 24/7 vaccine monitoring

Sofia Tomacruz

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Sinovac doses wasted in Cotabato; DOH orders 24/7 vaccine monitoring

CORONAVAC. In this file photo, healhcare workers show packaging of Sinovac's anti-COVID-19 vaccine at the Batasan Hills National High School on March 30, 2021.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

The Department of Health says vaccine storage temperatures must be checked every 4 hours

The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday, May 17, stressed the need to observe strict monitoring measures for coronavirus vaccines kept in storage, after doses of Sinovac’s shot kept in a freezer in a Cotabato health facility were wasted following a blackout.

“We investigated that (incident) and we have come out with guidance to the region that there should be constant monitoring. It cannot be that vaccines are only monitored from Monday to Friday, monitoring needs to be done Monday through Sunday – it is a 24/7 operation you need to carry out,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in Filipino during a virtual forum on Monday. 

“You do not monitor storage temperature only one time, but every 4 hours,” she added. 

Vergeire said the government, through its vaccine cluster, has since issued an advisory to vaccination sites to ensure monitoring measures were observed to prevent wastage. 

Vergeire made the statement after health authorities in Cotabato reported 348 Sinovac doses had been kept in a freezer without electricity for more than two days in a health center in the municipality of Makilala.

What happened in Cotabato?

In an report, Makilala coronavirus task force spokesperson Lito Cañedo said the vaccines were stored in a freezer at the municipal health office. The vaccines were allocated for use of senior citizens.

However, a blackout occurred at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, May 7.  The blackout prompted the transfer of the vaccines to a freezer at the Makilala police office.

After the Cotabato Electric Cooperative restored power later that day, the Makilala police center’s generator shut down its generator. No one remembered to plug the freezer back to the regular power supply, Inquirer reported. 

“Saturday and Sunday were no-work days. It was only in the morning of Monday, May 10, that health personnel discovered (the situation),” Cañedo said.

Why this matters

Vaccine wastage is one of the main scenarios health officials want to avoid as COVID-19 vaccines remain severely limited in the country. To date, about 7.7 million vaccines have arrived in the Philippines, barely enough to cover the country’s first 3 priority groups that include health workers, senior citizens, and persons with comorbidities.

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While the DOH has set aside buffer stocks of vaccines, health officials still stressed the need to minimize the doses that could be wasted due to factors like mishandling of vaccines and improper storage, among others. –

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.