‘Govt can meet bivalent vaccine targets’

THE government can meet future Covid-19 bivalent vaccination targets if it taps private hospitals in procuring and administering jabs, members of the Advisory Council of Experts (ACE), led by Jose Maria “Joey” Concepcion 3rd, said on Thursday.

The council is mapping out ways on how the government can proceed with the introduction of bivalent vaccines.

Concepcion said he had written the Department of Health (DoH) detailing the recommendations of the group, which is composed of the country’s foremost authorities on medicine, public health, epidemiology, economics, research and data analytics.

Among the recommendations was for private hospitals and other health care facilities to enter into agreements to procure bivalent vaccines.

The bivalent jabs can then be sold at cost and administered by health care professionals as part of the hospitals’ corporate social responsibility plan.

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It will also allow anyone to receive the vaccines even as they may fall outside the priority-queueing system that the government implements during previous vaccination efforts.

The proposal also seeks to address the lack of a Certificate of Product Registration for bivalent vaccines and help the DoH achieve higher vaccine accessibility and coverage, as well as unburden the government and allow it to focus on the vulnerable sectors of society.

“I think we’ve come to a point where people already know how to keep from being infected. Our job now is to make sure they have the means to keep protecting themselves from severe illness and death,” the former presidential adviser for entrepreneurship said.

Past private sector initiatives include the August 2021 lockdowns to stem an impending surge in cases, as well as the A Dose of Hope vaccine procurement program that secured millions of doses for the country despite restrictions in supply and regulatory roadblocks.

It also led to efforts to reopen businesses as the pandemic became more manageable.

This early, the hospitals belonging to the Metro Pacific group have committed to the plan to procure the vaccines and sell them at cost and with a minimal administration fee.

Dr. Benjamin Co, chief medical officer of Metro Pacific Hospital Holdings, believes that other private hospitals’ capability to do the same will depend on their manpower capacity and vaccine storage and logistics.

“Majority of those willing to get the vaccine are also those willing to pay for it. Patients also feel more comfortable getting vaccinated in the health care setting rather than having to do it in a mall or school or wherever else because the facilities for monitoring post-vaccination problems are better assured in a hospital than in a mall or makeshift vaccination center,” Co said.

Patients also feel more confident that highly trained health care professionals will administer the vaccine, and are assured of the quality of storage and handling of special vaccines like mRNA.

Storage and handling can be a challenge for hospitals with fewer resources, Co said.

The mRNA vaccine “will require storage at temperatures at less than minus 20 degrees Celsius, and once removed from storage, will be thawed at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, where the hospital/clinic should maintain this temperature,” he said.

Once thawed, the vaccines will be good for one month, but once the vial is opened, and its contents diluted, it is good only for the next six hours.

“This is one vaccine where proper storage is key to maintaining stability of the contents in order to retain its potency. Without the preservation of proper cold chain and logistical preparation, it would be more wastage of vaccines,” said Co.

Vaccine Expert Panel member Dr. Rontgene Solante, who is also the chairman of Adult Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine at San Lazaro Hospital, pointed out that giving the vaccines to people who want them is but one of many strategies to increase coverage.

“There are pockets of strategy to increase vaccine coverage among the population at risk, focusing on the benefits of additional protection with bivalent vaccines,” Solante said.

First, private companies must require their employees with comorbidities to get the bivalent vaccines.

Second is to incentivize vaccinations among senior citizens, and the third is for the general population to become aware of the dangers of long Covid.

“Long Covid … is now considered an important cause of morbidity due to long-term complications such as brain fog, chronic fatigue and mental health, which can affect productivity and quality of life,” Solante said.

Co and Solante agreed that bivalent vaccines can provide significant protection.

“It has better and broader protection against Omicron VOCs (variants of concern) and its subvariants, both in getting the infection and developing severe infection,” said Solante, adding that bivalent boosters add 50 percent efficacy against severe disease from Omicron.

Co said the efficacy of bivalent vaccines must be considered in view of the economic impact on health during a pandemic.

“Lockdowns alone do not work at decreasing the risk of future surges. The virus continues to evolve and survive and co-exist with us. We need to remember that while we cannot be one step ahead of them, we can prevent the virus from [becoming] debilitating,” he said.

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