AdChoiceTV News — The priority list for COVID-19 inoculation should be upheld even if the private sector is allowed to import vaccines, an adviser of the Department of Health (DOH) said Tuesday night.
In an interview with Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, member of the DOH’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG), said private sector importation of vaccines does not change the fact that those in the priority list deserve to be inoculated first.
“We want the priority list to be followed. And this is not just because we want to protect certain groups,” Lim said.
Health care workers (HCWs) and senior citizens have been classified as the first and second priority groups for inoculation because they are the most vulnerable to the virus, she added.
Lim noted the “whole point of the vaccination program is to achieve the goal efficiently” and this is to prevent severe COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Another issue to settle is that the COVID-19 vaccines are made available only through the emergency use authorization (EUA) issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Under EUA, only the national government is allowed to procure the vaccines. If the private sector wants to import, they have to work with the national government through a tripartite agreement.
“Otherwise that EUA does not extend to them (private sector) and the reason why we want to do that… is precisely because these vaccines are not licensed and we need the accountability to fall within a particular group so if there are issues, the consumer is not left unprotected,” she said.
The expert also pointed out that since there is a global shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, the private sector, “even if it has its own funding,” will only be getting vaccines from one pool of sources, along with the national government.
Customs to be strict
Yesterday, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) spelled out its rule for private sector importation of COVID-19 vaccines – no pertinent documents from the FDA and DOH, no release of shipment.
Even with President Duterte’s pronouncement that government will facilitate private sector initiatives to purchase COVID-19 vaccines, the BOC said it is already coordinating with the FDA and DOH for the smooth clearance and release of shipments.
“We cannot do anything about it. My decision is I have ordered (vaccine czar) Secretary (Carlito) Galvez to sign any and all documents that would allow the private sector to import at will,” Duterte said recently.
Documents required for COVID-19 vaccine shipments are the EUA, clearance from the DOH, import documents such as airway bill, invoice, Department of Finance (DOF) exemption and others necessary to fulfill the import entry for Customs clearance.
For its part, the Customs office at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (BOC-NAIA) said a one-stop shop (OSS) has been created to fast-track clearances and processing of COVID-19 vaccines imported by private sector entities.
However, BOC-NAIA district collector Mimel Talusan said: “We will be very strict on the importation of COVID-19 vaccines by private sector, we will require full documentation.”
Earlier, BOC Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero assured the public that the bureau will continue to expedite the processing and releasing of COVID-19 vaccines and related shipments to aid the fight against the rapid surge of infections in the country.
Meanwhile, Lim backed the recommendation of the DOH to extend the week-long enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) being implemented in the National Capital Region (NCR)-Plus bubble for another week.
“We don’t really expect that the number of cases will significantly change until two weeks down the line coming from restrictions,” she told The Chiefs.
Lim claimed this is because it takes two weeks “to play out in terms of infection and disease presentation”
“So realistically, the interventions we are doing now happening at the end of March will probably be seen by the middle of April,” she added.
Reporting by Irvin Chua