DOH admits 20.6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses wasted

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 15 2022 05:17 PM | Updated as of Aug 15 2022 05:19 PM

Residents, mostly senior citizens, at the Marikina Sports Complex wait and receive their COVID-19 booster shot in Marikina City on July 22, 2022. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File
Residents, mostly senior citizens, at the Marikina Sports Complex wait and receive their COVID-19 booster shot in Marikina City on July 22, 2022. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — COVID-19 vaccines that either expired or remain unused reached more than 20.6 million doses, according to the Department of Health (DOH) during a Senate hearing Monday.

Health undersecretary and agency’s officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said the number represents 8.42 percent of the country’s total procured vaccine as of August 12 this year, or within the “10 percent” allowed number of wastage by the World Health Organization.

Reasons for wastage include date of expiration; the vaccine’s container was opened but was not used; spillage; broken vials; back flow; left over and under doses.

“There were also wastage due to natural disasters, like the typhoon Odette, fire and earthquake. And also due to temperature control, that’s why vaccines were not used, and temperature excursions,” Vergeire told the panel.

Vergeire reiterated that the COVAX facility has committed that it will replace the expired and wasted vaccines.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros placed the amount of wasted vaccines at P5.78 billion.

“Malaking halaga ito. Kesehodang procured o donated. Mas nakakahiya sa mas mahirap at nangangailangan pang bansa,” Hontiveros said.

Vergeire’s assurance that COVAX will replace the expired vaccines is not enough to end the discussion on the matter, Hontiveros pointed out.

What is needed, she said, is to find ways on how to prevent the repetition of vaccine wastage.

"Hindi ba’t may vaccine czar and inter-agency body tayo na nangunguna at nangangasiwa, pero here we are, problematic at inefficient vaccine administration... Moving forward, sa ngayon what are the drivers of vaccine wastage? Atsaka what are the plans to prevent wastage?” Hontiveros asked.

Vergeire in response said part of the measures that they will take to prevent a repeat of wasted vaccine is to no longer procure additional supplies until the end of the year, given the sufficient supply for their intended recipients.

“Based on our estimate with 1st and 2nd booster shots and based on uptake of vaccines right now, we will have enough for us to reach our targets. We don't need to procure more this year,” Vergeire said.

The remaining COVID-19 vaccine stock of the government will be sufficient until the first quarter of 2023, the official said.

More than 90 percent of the country’s population already received their first two COVID vaccines. But booster shot demand was tremendously reduced to a mere 21 percent as of July 2022.

This resulted in many unused vaccines, which was primarily brought by the DOH findings that 9 out of every 10 Filipinos have become “overly confident” for just having two vaccines; others are practicing other COVID prevention measures; some believing that they have a “healthy immune system already;” not being part of high-risk; others think that having contracted COVID made them immune from such virus.

Others refuse to take the booster jab after experiencing side effects from their first two shots; booster shots are not a work or school requirement, and workers’ employers do not provide a leave for COVID vaccine effects, Vergeire said.

The DOH is again intensifying its information drive to encourage more people to receive their booster shots.

The agency is also asking the Department of Labor and Employment to come up with programs that will encourage workers to receive their boosters, and introduce a policy that will excuse an employee from work if the latter experiences side effects from booster, Vergeire said.