MANILA, Philippines — Coronavirus vaccines requiring excessively cold temperatures can be only deployed in major urban centers in the Philippines due to the lack of facilities, the country’s vaccine czar said Monday.
Only Metro Manila, Cebu City and Davao City have facilities with sub-zero temperatures need to preserve the potency of the vaccines manufactured by American firms Pfizer and Moderna, said Sec. Carlito Galvez, a former military general in charge of the country’s strategy to combat the COVID-19 crisis.
Both COVID-19 jabs use messenger RNA to trigger the immune system to produce protective antibodies. Hence, the biological structures of both vaccines could fall apart if they are stored in room temperature.
To stay viable, the Pfizer vaccine, which has an efficacy rate of 95%, should be stored at–70°C
The Moderna vaccine does not need subarctic temperature like the Pfizer jab does, but it requires to be stored at–20°C. It has an efficacy rate of 94.1% in preventing COVID-19.
“For us to have easier management of logistics, [those with –20°C and –70°C requirement] will be deployed only in central hubs,” Galvez said during the Senate committee of whole hearing on the government’s inoculation plan.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, in a separate briefing, also said that the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer will be available only to “major cities.”
Meanwhile, vaccines which can be stored at 2°C to 8°C—the standard temperature that is within the existing cold chain system in the Philippines—will be deployed in suburban and rural areas.
“But we will devise ways and means,” Galvez said.
The Philippines aims to vaccinate 50 to 70 million Filipinos against COVID-19 in 2021 alone, but it depends on the global supply, which had been mostly procured by wealthy nations.
So far, the national government has signed deals for 30 million doses of Covovax vaccine developed by US-based Novavax and Serum Institute of India and 25 million doses of the jabs developed by China’s Sinovac.
Last year, it signed a deal with British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca for 2.6 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, which was made possible through the donations of some 30 private companies.
The vaccines of Novavax, Sinovac and AstraZeneca do not require ultra cold storage.
The country's Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved any vaccine for emergency use, which is required before it can be rolled out for mass vaccination. Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Russia's Gamaleya have applied for emergency use authorization.
With nearly 490,000 COVID-19 infections, the Philippines has the second-worst coronavirus outbreak in Southeast Asia following Indonesia. — Gaea Katreena Cabico
Follow this page for updates on the issues surrounding the COVID-19 vaccination program in the Philippines. Main photo from AFP/Yaksin Akgul.
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