ADB cautions poor infrastructure will delay vaccination in rural Philippines

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A city hall employee takes part in a vaccination simulation in Manila on January 19, ahead of the expected arrival of Covid-19 coronavirus vaccines in the capital city the following month. AFP

Poor infrastructure and the lack of cold storage facilities in the countryside will slow down the Philippines’ vaccination programme to inoculate the entire population, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said on February 23.

Citing earlier projections from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the ADB said in a report that it would take the Philippines up to the fourth quarter of 2023 to finish vaccinating the rest of its population after prioritising vulnerable groups.

Compared to other ASEAN countries, vaccination rollout in the Philippines would lag behind Singapore’s plan to finish inoculation by the fourth quarter of this year, Vietnam’s by the second quarter of next year, Brunei and Thailand in the third quarter of 2022, Malaysia in the second quarter of 2023 and Indonesia by the third quarter of 2023.

The Philippines’ timetable to vaccinate the entire population is the same as in Bangladesh, Nepal, Samoa and Tonga.

Poorer Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and East Timor may take up to 2024 or beyond to vaccinate all of their respective populations.

The ADB brief titled “Getting Ready for the COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout” read: “In the Philippines, it is difficult to access rural and remote communities due to unpredictable weather, security concerns and poor infrastructure.

“Inadequate provision of transportation has seen healthcare workers resort to hiring private motorcycles and pump boats to deliver and administer vaccines.

“Refrigerators in health centres in rural areas are subject to intermittent power supply with no backup power source. Vaccine wastage also occurs owing to a lack of skilled personnel.”

Citing 2020 data by logistics firm DHL, the ADB said cold-chain logistics in the Philippines scored four out of five as the highest score in terms of preparedness for facilities that required conventional temperature requirements or about 2-8 degrees Celsius, which AstraZeneca vaccines, for instance, needed as storage temperature.

But in case vaccines needed stringent temperature requirements of as low as minus 80C, cold-chain facilities in the Philippines scored only two out of five. Pfizer vaccines, in particular, needed to be stored at as low as minus 70C.

In an earlier report, the ADB said the Philippines faced constraints in vaccine financing as “the government estimates that 82.5 billion pesos [$1.70 billion] will be required to provide vaccines to approximately 55 per cent of the country’s population – still short of its plan to vaccinate all Filipinos by 2023”.

Citing the vaccine allocation plan prepared by the Department of Health, the ADB had said the Philippine government targeted to vaccinate 25.35 million Filipinos in 2021, 44.63 million in 2022, and 41.77 million in 2023, since by that time the Philippines would have a total population of 112.89 million.