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Government-Private Sector Alliance Key to Vaccine Distribution

Winning the war against Covid-19 in the Philippines will now hinge on the effective and timely distribution of vaccines across the nation. The government has already started detailing its distribution plan and priorities in the vaccination program, but it will need the help of the private sector as a trusted partner in eliminating the virus.

 

The challenges in dispensing the vaccine, as I have mentioned in this column before, are gargantuan. Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. this early has seen the formidable obstacles the government will face in getting the majority of the population inoculated against the coronavirus.

 

Per Mr. Galvez’s initial estimate, the Covid-19 vaccination program will take three to five years given the logistical challenges and the available manpower services. He cited the Philippines’ record of managing just 5 million vaccinations annually under the normal immunization program. The current mobility restrictions in Metro Manila under the general quarantine community regime, in addition, will pose another challenge to vaccine distribution.

 

I remain optimistic, however, that the nation can shorten this timeline through a trusted partnership with the private sector. Just like what they did at the outset of Covid-19 in March, private companies can help ease the burden of the government in the fight against the virus.

 

Private companies contributed to the immediate mass testing of the population in the early days of the pandemic. Many companies, including my Villar Group, helped in the establishment of quarantine sites and in the supply of life-saving personnel protective equipment, especially to front-line workers.

 

The Villar Group, in particular, led the conversion of the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City and the Philippine Institute of Sports Multi-Purpose Arena (or ULTRA stadium) in Pasig City into temporary quarantine facilities. It donated disinfecting apparatus to a number of public hospitals in Metro Manila and hospital beds for quarantine facilities. President Duterte has acknowledged the role of the private sector in helping contain the spread of Covid-19 infections in the country.

 

Perhaps, we can follow the lead of the United States’ Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership initiated by the US government in facilitating and speeding up the development, production and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. The OWS is largely instrumental in the development of at least two vaccines against the coronavirus.

 

The OWS and its private partners, among other things, have caused the signing of a contract to supply over 100 million pre-filled syringes for distribution across the US by the end of this year.

 

The US government has also begun forging partnerships with reputable pharmacies and networks on urban and regional levels to distribute vaccines. The tie-up with the drug stores, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, covers approximately 60 percent of pharmacies throughout the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

 

The local distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, meanwhile, will require logistical support from the private sector. The government can tap local private logistics companies in storing and transporting the vaccine to the intended target population, and eventually to the rest of the nation. The private sector admittedly has more resources in the logistics business than the government.

 

One multinational company has started making preparations to build cold storage facilities and transport the Covid-19 vaccines after the successful trial of several drug candidates. Handling the vaccines is an intricate operation. The drug must be transported and stored in very low temperatures ranging from -20 to -80 degrees centigrade. I’m sure logistics companies are now making preparations to upgrade their vans that will fetch the vaccines from ports or airports to cold storage facilities, and finally to hospitals, drug stores and public health centers.

 

In this connection, I’m glad to disclose that the Villar Group, like some private companies, is purchasing vaccines that have passed successful clinical trials abroad for donation to the government and our frontliners, and for distribution initially to employees in my organization. My group has the capability to store and warehouse delicate vaccines before they are transported to the beneficiaries.

 

Help from the private sector is, indeed, coming. The private sector, gaining from the experience in the early stages of the pandemic, knows better now how to deal with the health crisis and avoid the hiccups that temporarily delayed the response to the health crisis.

 

Government funding, again, will be key to the successful distribution of the vaccines. It is good to learn that our lawmakers from both houses approved the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021. I read from new reports that the new budget allocated a “huge amount in unprogrammed appropriations” for the purchase, storage and distribution of coronavirus vaccines.

 

The Philippines by far has contained Covid-19 infections to less than 2,000 cases a day. We as a nation will ultimately defeat the virus through trust, unity and a productive partnership between the government and the private sector.