How the private sector can help in vaccination
Since October 2020, I’ve been working with the private sector on the national vaccine program with vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. and his team. We’ve focused our efforts on creating a vaccine portfolio, vaccine administration and allocation, logistics and cold chain management, and public information.
From our perspective, this is how the private sector can help the government in the mass vaccine campaign.
Augment vaccine procurement. The government has wisely allowed the private sector and local governments to augment the government’s own vaccine procurement. Many people may not be aware that vaccine manufacturers deal only with governments; they do not sell commercially to companies. Vaccines are given “emergency use authority” by health regulatory bodies so they can be used during emergency periods but cannot be commercially sold. The Philippines might be the only country in the world to innovate and allow private sector and local governments to jointly procure with and supplement government supply.
The country benefits in three ways. First, it adds to the overall supply. Second, every dose the private sector buys is a dose saved by the government. And third, the increased supply means the government can scale up the vaccination program to move faster toward herd immunity.
The combined efforts of the national government, private sector, and local governments mean that the country has 148 million doses of different vaccine brands under negotiation. This excludes the expected 44 million doses made available through COVAX, the cooperative effort of the World Health Organization, Gavi, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to bring discounted vaccines to developing countries.
The Philippines has enough vaccines to administer to eligible adults from a population of 110 million people. Since only persons aged 18 and above can be vaccinated, that works out to roughly 77 million people. At two doses per person, we need 154 million doses.
Open up more allocation channels. While no vaccines have arrived and limited supply will start from March to May, once deliveries accelerate from June onward there will be enough supply to vaccinate all. The government has designated health care frontliners as the first to be vaccinated. This is necessary to protect individual health care workers and the entire health system.
The government has also identified seniors (including those with comorbidities and persons with disabilities), indigents, uniformed services, and other frontline workers as priorities, in that order.
Vaccinate private sector workers in parallel effort. As more supply begins to come in and reach quantities to cover the entire population, it makes sense to allow the private sector to vaccinate economic frontliners and their dependents in parallel with the government’s priority populations.
These economic frontliners are customer-facing workers and essential workers in utilities and key industries, and overseas Filipino workers. It also makes sense to vaccinate “household dependents” because limiting inoculations to workers offers little protection to households.
What are the benefits of opening up these parallel channels? First, it would allow the country to scale up vaccination faster. Second, every person vaccinated by the private sector eases the burden of vaccine administration for the government. Third, and perhaps most important, it enables people to return to work sooner and regain their livelihoods. It jumpstarts the economy.
Use third-party and service providers. The vaccine deployment program has many moving parts, from the actual procurement of vaccines and ancillary supplies (e.g., syringes, needles, etc.) to the logistics and cold chain management to the information systems to track all supplies, vaccines, and adverse events. The scale of the work is overwhelming and has not been carried out at this magnitude in our history. Government’s own capacity and infrastructure will be stretched beyond their limits. Thus, it is imperative that services be contracted from the private sector so logistics, data, and actual vaccinations can be carried out by private companies with the expertise.
The job may be daunting, but not impossible if we work together. But we need to pick up the pace to get ready for those first deliveries.
Guillermo M. Luz is chief resilience officer of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (www.pdrf.org).
Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).
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