Here they go again, bright-eyed and mouth agape, at the slightest hint of chance a Covid vaccine would be ready to fly soon. On Nov. 9, 2020, vaccine developer Pfizer Inc. announced it could have 50 million doses available globally by the end of 2020, enough for 25 million.
“A game changer” and “a ray of hope,” Philippine officials were quick to respond.
Mary Jean Loreche, Department of Health (DOH) 7 spokesperson, said Pfizer’s pronouncement offers a ray of hope that the pandemic would soon be contained. “We only need around 60 to 70 percent of effectivity to tell if it achieves its role. For the 90 percent effectivity, that is good if it’s true,” she said.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said, “The availability of the vaccine will be a game changer, where we go from avoidance to actively minimizing the threat of infection.”
What can easily get lost in the excitement is that the vaccine developers are also currently facing a challenge more prosaic than just making the vaccine safe. The problem of efficient transport of the vaccine is still something to be solved.
A recent study by courier companies found that the vaccine, which requires stringent temperature controls, may only be accessible to about 2.5 billion people in 25 countries.
Pfizer had customized transport containers for the boxes that can carry 10 to 20 doses of the vaccine and are embedded with GPS-enabled thermal sensors so their locations and temperature can be easily tracked. As they come in glass vials, the risk of breakage under extreme temperature is most likely. As of now, manufacturers are developing glass vials that can survive under negative 80 degrees Celsius.
Which brings us to the state of logistical capabilities the Philippines’ healthcare system has. Do we have enough cold storage facilities to store volumes of the vaccine supply?
Research firm Center for Strategic and International Studies pointed out the complexities of the delivery side of the vaccine, the demand for strict temperature control might render many developing countries in the world incapable of receiving sufficient vaccine supply.
As of the moment, Roque revealed that the Philippines only has one facility that is capable of bulk cold storage, which is the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa. Government may have to build more storage facilities.
DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said government prefers that each region or province will have its own cold storage facility.
While Pfizer, likely forerunner in the vaccine race, will be deploying supplies by early next year, transport and recipient storage are another story altogether.