MANILA – While the Philippines has been implementing the national immunization program for decades, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire acknowledged that the system of immunizing remains far from perfect.
The introduction of a new COVID-19 vaccine would be filled with challenges and among them is boosting the public’s confidence toward a new vaccine, according to Vergeire.
“Unang-una na titignan kapag ganiyan, would be the confidence of people. Dapat alam ng tao kung bakit binabakunahan, ano ang harmful effects at ano ang benepisyo kapag natanggap nila ang bakuna na ito,” Vergeire said.
(We should assess the public’s confidence on the vaccine. They should know why they are being vaccinated, what are its harmful effects and what are the benefits once they get vaccinated.)
Earlier studies have shown that vaccine confidence plummeted to a measly 30 percent after the controversy surrounding the dengue vaccine.
However, the DOH has seen an improvement especially after a measles and polio outbreak was declared in 2019.
Logistics will also pose a challenge, especially since some of the COVID-19 vaccines would require ultra low freezers, Vergeire said.
The storage requirement of such vaccines, she said, would affect the manner these vaccines will be distributed to the population.
The current immunization program, especially that of the Measles-Rubella Oral Polio Vaccine, saw health workers visiting one house after the other to administer vaccines to target populations.
But that would prove to be difficult should a vaccine require ultra low-freezer storage, she said.
“With this kind of strategy, nakikita natin na may effect 'yan. May ilang nanay na matatamad na sila magpunta sa facility,” she said.
(We could see that this strategy has an effect. Some mothers were not in the mood to go personally to the facilities.)
As with any vaccine, monitoring for adverse effects is also one of the things the department sees as a challenge. But Vergeire assured the public that such concerns are already being considered as the government continues to plan for the coronavirus vaccines’ rollout.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier said that recipients of the vaccines will be prioritized while supply remains low. Vergeire said the health department would distribute the vaccine depending on the President’s pronouncements.
“Sabi doon sa mga pronouncement, medical frontliners, barangay health workers, ibang allied health worker, ibang frontliners like BJMP and Bureau of Corrections (BuCor). ‘Yong health workers sa Department of Education (DepEd), DSWD at iba pang mga ahensiya. Mga senior citizens, indigent population at iba pang vulnerable population na na-identify natin,” she said.
(According to the President’s pronouncement, the country will prioritize medical frontliners, barangay health workers, frontliners from BJMP and BuCor, DepEd health workers, DSWD, senior citizens, indigent population, those belonging in the vulnerable population that we have identified.)
“Pwedeng magkaroon ng expansion (ng vaccine distribution), depende sa pagkakausap natin sa mga manufacturer at paano ma-negotiate ang prices.”
(We could expand the vaccine distribution depending on our talks with manufacturers. We have also negotiated its prices.)
As of posting, an exact date for the World Health Organization’s solidarity trial for vaccines has yet to be announced.
The Department of Science and Technology confirmed the solidarity trials would take place in December.
Other vaccine manufacturers, which are planning to conduct independent clinical trials, are already in touch with the government and are currently undergoing regulatory processes.
As of Friday, the country has 391,809 total COVID-19 cases. The tally includes 349,974 recoveries, 7,461 fatalities and 34,374 active infections.