20M COVID-19 vaccine doses gone to waste, no procurements for now

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 15) — The government will not buy any more COVID-19 vaccines this year after the wastage of over 20.66 million doses, the bulk of which have expired.

Briefing senators on Monday, Department of Health Officer-in-Charge Maria Rosario Vergeire reported an 8.42% vaccine wastage as of August 12.

Senator Risa Hontiveros noted that this is almost double the 4.7% vaccine wastage reported in June.

"At this rate, Mr. Chair, by October, lalampas na tayo sa (we will exceed the) threshold ng World Health Organization na acceptable vaccine wastage limit na 10% so we might have accumulated vaccines faster than we could administer them," Hontiveros said, addressing Senate committee on health chairman Christopher "Bong" Go.

Hontiveros added that at ₱500 per dose, the wasted vaccines amount to around ₱10.33 billion.

According to data shared by Health Undersecretary Ma. Carolina Vida-Taiño, some 19 million doses have expired. These were from donations, as well as purchases made by local government units and the private sector. None of those procured by the national government expired, Vergeire said.

Meanwhile, operational issues were to blame for the wastage of the remaining 1.6 million doses, according to DOH data.

Vergeire said the COVAX facility will replace all these wasted vaccines and the government will not be making any procurement for the rest of the year.

"Based on our estimates, we will be consuming all of these existing stocks by December and our schedule for the COVAX deliveries or replacements would start December also so that we can have appropriate and adequate stocks by the first quarter of 2023," Vergeire said.

She said the target is for 50% of the eligible population to get their first booster shot by October 8. "If we are going to be able to do that, then we are on the track of consuming all of these existing vaccines that we have right now," she said.

To date, only 21% of the target population have received at least one booster shot. The DOH attributed this low coverage to the "overconfidence" in the primary shots and concerns over side effects.

Former President Rodrigo Duterte's declaration placing the entire country under a state of calamity is only until September. Vergeire said this should only be lifted if the country meets its vaccination target.

Meanwhile, health reform advocate Tony Leachon proposes a number of waste-proof measures, including the possibility of setting a deadline for the vaccination.

"Next six months," Leachon cited as an example.

"Yung ayaw na po, hindi natin mapipilit… pero at least makatarget tayo ng 50% para tayo maprotektahan (we cannot force those who do not want to get booster but we should at least achieve the 50% target to protect us)," he added.

He also wants to identify "laggard" LGUs in terms of vaccinating their constituents to give way to necessary intervention.

Go said he may schedule more hearings to get updates on the country's vaccination program and overall health situation.