A group of health experts urged the government to work closely with private hospitals in procuring and administering COVID-19 vaccines aside from increasing awareness of the dangers of long COVID.

Members of the Advisory Council of Experts (ACE) led by Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion made suggestions on how the government can proceed with bivalent vaccines.

Concepcion earlier sent to the Department of Health (DOH) recommendations from members of ACE, which is composed of authorities on medicine, public health, epidemiology, economics, research, and data analytics, to provide expert insight and guidance to the private sector.

“We remain the government’s ally in its vaccination efforts,” said Concepcion.

Among these recommendations was for private hospitals and other healthcare facilities to enter into agreements to procure bivalent vaccines.

The vaccines can then be sold at cost and administered by healthcare professionals as part of hospitals’ corporate social responsibility efforts.

The proposal will also allow anyone to receive the vaccines even as they may fall outside the priority-queueing system that was used in the government’s previous vaccination efforts.

The proposal seeks to address the lack of Certificate of Product Registration of the 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.

Past private sector initiatives include the August 2021 lockdowns to stem an impending surge in cases, as well 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 efforts to reopen businesses as the pandemic became more manageable.

Meanwhile, the hospitals belonging to the Metro Pacific group have already 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 the other private hospitals’ capability to do the same will depend on their manpower capacity and vaccine storage and logistics, as well as approval from the DOH and the LGUs.

Co said that the plan to use private hospitals and clinics makes sense.

“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 healthcare 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,” he said.

Patients also feel more confident that highly trained healthcare professionals will administer the vaccine for them, he said, and that they would be 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, however.

“Note that 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,” explained Co.

When initially 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, said that while vaccine wastage related to low booster takeup has led to doing away with the priority sector system, giving the vaccines to people who want them is just 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,” he said.

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

READ: As gov’t eyes bivalent jabs, Go renews call for public to get vaxxed to curb vaccine wastage

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