Experts urge government to come up with strategic plan vs pandemic

THE new administration was advised to strategize its handling of the ongoing pandemic and to strengthen initiatives to inoculate the people so as to maintain low infection rates in the country and avoid wastage of the Covid-19 vaccines.

“The lack of planning led to the loss of the vaccines,” OCTA Research President Professor Ranjit Rye said during a forum organized by Cardinal Santos Medical Center last July 28. “The government should now define a comprehensive national Covid-19 strategy or exit plan that would guide the national and local government and the private sector on how to respond and recover from the pandemic.”

For her part, Philippine College of Physicians President Dr. Maricar Limpin urged the government to also weigh matters carefully as the State of Public Health Emergency is about to expire next month.

“We have not done the necessary preparations… the vaccines are still under EUA [Emergency Use Authorization],” she noted.

With this in mind, she reminded the government to decide whether to keep the EUA for Covid vaccines or encourage the pharmaceutical firms to apply for Certificates of Product Registration (CPR) to make sure that they are available to the public, whether commercially or through public procurement and donations.

Dr. Nina Gloriani, chairman of the Vaccine Experts Panel, said boosters are necessary to keep immunity at sufficient levels. She explained: “The primary series is not sufficient at this time, especially with the emergence of variants.”

Even if the growth rate in Covid cases is stable, OCTA Research Fellow Dr. Guido David observed that it might take longer for the pandemic to transition to an endemic due to waning immunity and/or the occurrence of subvariants.

“We need to keep healthcare utilization rates down so that the economy can stay open. A sure way of doing this is by strengthening our wall of protection, especially against variants,” said Go Negosyo Founder Joey Concepcion.

Addressing gaps to avoid jab expiration

IN a separate town hall meeting held by the nonprofit organization, he and independent medical experts offered suggestions on how to avoid a repeat of the expiration of Covid vaccines in the country.

Last April, the entrepreneurship czar sounded the alarm on the millions of such jabs worth billions of pesos that are nearing their expiry date.

As of June 26, there are 29,795,970 available doses in the national cold chain facility, with more than four million confirmed to expire by July 31.

“We need to learn from this experience,” Concepcion said of their expiry just days after the Department of Health (DOH) allowed the use of second boosters for adults 50 years and older, and those 18 to 49 years with comorbidities. “There are clearly several gaps that led to the expiry of the vaccines… We tried to point out some of these gaps such as the need to listen to the science coming from abroad, and to act swiftly considering that our economy is on the line.”

Having the visibility on the supply, the DOH, he said “could have stepped in.” He pointed out: “It would just be a simple computation as the expiry dates are clear. They knew the levels we all had, from both the private sector, government procurements and donations from abroad.”

Since the agency had the pertinent date, Concepcion emphasized that it could have advised the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) accordingly while the guidelines for implementation should have been issued immediately.

Moving forward, the DOH Secretary, with assistance from an executive committee, must be able to override decisions in consideration of an emergency, suggested Dr. Ted Herbosa, the special adviser of the National Task Force Against Covid-19 and an expert on disaster and emergency medicine.

Seeing that several bodies have been advising the government, with some even having overlapping functions, all throughout the pandemic, he reiterated that this must be addressed.

What to do next

EVEN if the Philippines has remained under the “very low risk” level for Covid-19 compared to its neighboring countries, the new government must not be complacent with regards to its strategies to sustain this and, eventually, end the ensuing health crisis.

Concepcion believes that the plan of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to establish the Philippine Center for Disease Prevention and Control is a promising idea, and that it should be headed by the DOH secretary.

The Go Negosyo founder added that the upcoming vaccination programs should be confined to only two brands to make future procurements of the private sector more streamlined with the government.

He agreed with Dr. Limpin that there must be a plan on whether vaccines will still be under EUA or granted with CPR as the State of Public Health Emergency is scheduled to lapse in September.

“We will support the vaccination, but the roadmap needs to be clear,” Concepcion said.