Opinion

Wasting precious vaccines

Wasting precious vaccines

While people are risking infection and waiting for up to five hours in crowded centers in Metro Manila to get vaccinated against COVID, there must be little urgency for the jabs in the town of Makilala in Cotabato.

The other weekend, 348 vials of CoronaVac, the vaccine developed by Chinese firm Sinovac, went to waste after being stored in a freezer that was unplugged. Around the world, COVID vaccines are typically guarded like gold. In Makilala, you’d think the guarding would have been more stringent, since the freezer was inside the police station.

A power outage lasting about two hours prompted the transfer of the vaccines from the municipal health office to the police station where there was a power generator. Neither the health personnel nor the police at the station, however, bothered to check if the freezer was working.

The generator worked fine. But when power was restored by the Cotabato Electric Cooperative, no one remembered to check if the freezer was back in normal working order. It turned out that it wasn’t plugged into an electrical outlet. With offices closed for the weekend, the mistake was discovered only on Monday, when health personnel decided that the vaccines had been destroyed by two days of sitting in high temperature.

At an estimated P1,500 per dose, that’s over P500,000 worth of vaccines lost, according to local health officials. Even more important, that’s 174 lives that could have been saved with two doses of CoronaVac.

What happens if even more temperature-sensitive vaccines are sent to Makilala? With COVID vaccines so scarce, the national government will have to ensure that only the most reliable entities will be entrusted with custody of the precious jabs. Special protocols may have to be drawn up for COVID inoculation in areas without the required cold chain facilities for the vaccines – and there are many such places across the country.

With vaccines in such short supply, the country cannot afford to waste even a single dose. The experience in Makilala cannot be repeated.