Gov’t starts inspection of cold storage facilities next week to prevent vaccine wastage

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 14) — Government officials will make the rounds of all available cold chain facilities next week ahead of the much-anticipated rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the country.

“We will make sure that all the vaccines, whether 2 to 8, negative 20 or negative 70 (degrees Celsius) will be taken care of,” the country’s vaccine czar, Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr. said Thursday during the ceremonial signing for more than 14 million more vaccine doses from British firm AstraZeneca.

To ensure efficacy and prevent wastage, vaccines have to be stored at the proper temperature, up to as low as minus 70 degrees Celsius for the ones developed by US drug maker Pfizer.

“We have seen some reports that we have 30% wastage in some areas in Europe,” Galvez said. “With the acute shortage of the vaccine, we cannot afford wastage.”

The government has bought 10 ultra-low temperature freezers as it targets a February rollout for Pfizer’s vaccines through the COVAX facility.

COVAX, a global initiative led by the World Health Organization along with the vaccine alliance Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, has set requirements the Philippines should meet for the early rollout.

Pfizer vaccines may be limited to Metro Manila, Cebu City, and Davao City for now, Galvez earlier said, as these urbanized areas can meet the storage requirements. The national government also reached out to private firms to establish cold storage rooms and walk-in freezers.

Meanwhile, 50,000 doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine are set to arrive on February 20, officials said, followed by the rest of the 25 million doses secured by the national government. AstraZeneca’s vaccines are also expected to be among the first to be delivered in the country.

Vaccines made by Sinovac and AstraZeneca can be kept in standard refrigerators at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius.

After closing the deal for a total of 17 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through tripartite agreements with private companies and local government units, Galvez explained the next step would be agreeing on the logistics.

“The contract that we have finished right now is only to unlock the supply," Galvez said.

"We will have a next agreement which is the supply agreement, wherein the nitty-gritty of the shipment, storage, and also distribution will be undertaken,” he said, adding that this is part of negotiations with the vaccine makers.