GENERAL SANTOS CITY – National Task Force against COVID 19 Chief Implementer and vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr visited this city to personally assess the health situation and provide guidance to local officials for the more efficient rollout of the immunization program.

GenSan has been identified as one of the “centers of gravity” in the country due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases. The city’s proximity to Indonesia and Malaysia also poses a health risk, as these countries are experiencing surges in coronavirus cases due to the Delta variant.

During a dialogue with the SOSCKARGEN Region’s provincial governors, city mayors, and regional directors of various national government agencies in Region 12 on Tuesday, July 20, the vaccine czar underscored the importance of having sufficient cold storage facilities, as well as reliable cold chain solution partners for local government units (LGUs).

“Dapat maalam tayo sa cold chain distribution, sa cold chain facility dahil mahihirapan kayo. If you have the cold chain capacity, we can even deliver the vaccine directly to the intended provinces and cities,” Galvez said.

“You can also look at developing hospital-based capacity for cold storage similar to Western Mindanao and Northern Mindanao where their vaccine supplies are stored in hospitals,” he added.

Galvez said that the cold storage capacity of local government units is among the key factors being considered by the National Vaccination Operations Center (NVOC) in vaccine deployment per region.

He noted that regions which have well-equipped cold chain systems have received as much as 700,000 doses per shipment.

Galvez also pitched the idea of collaborating with Filipino-Chinese business communities as well as with various chambers of commerce in the region in order to meet the cold storage requirements of the vaccines.

“Remember that Moderna, Pfizer, at Sputnik V ang mga bakunang matitira sa fourth quarter. Paubos na ang ating Sinovac delivery by August, so you have to prepare and equip yourselves in handling highly sensitive vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna. Magpa-train kayo kung kailangan. Because we will soon begin distributing them to rural areas,” he explained.

Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Sputnik V vaccines are placed in ultra-low freezers and require storage temperatures of -18 to -80 degree centigrade.

According to Galvez, General Santos City should be developed as a major vaccine storage hub due to its strategic location in the region.

“Kung malaki ang storage capacity, pwedeng tanggap lang nang tanggap ‘yung region ng supply ng bakuna,” he said.

More than 350,000 doses of anti-COVID 19 shots from the national government’s July vaccine stockpile have been allocated for Region 12.

These are composed of 148,700 Johnson & Johnson doses, 45,700 COVAX-donated Astrazeneca shots, and 174,294 Sinovac doses.

Fast track vaccine rollout and ensure equitable distribution

Meanwhile, the vaccine czar urged local officials to scale up their vaccination throughput to 5,000 jabs daily to ensure the immediate protection of their vulnerable sectors and communities.

Galvez, however, underscored that vaccine distribution should be equitable and must be based on the prioritization scheme advised by the NVOC.

He noted that implementing units must focus on both sectoral priority and geographical priority, the LGUs’ capacity to accept and administer the vaccines, and the “super spreader” localities or densely populated areas.

“Dapat flexible tayo pero huwag nating iwanan ang priority areas and sectors. Tulungan natin ang LGU na mahina o mabagal ang pag-rollout,” Galvez said.

“’Yung areas na parating tinatamaan [ng COVID] o mataas ang cases o ‘yung mga high risks, ‘yun ang siguraduhing mabigyan ng supply,” he added.

With General Santos being the center of gravity in the region, its residents should be prioritized in the vaccine rollout, as they are constantly exposed to people from other places who come to the city to trade and engage in other economic opportunities.

“Ang General Santos kasi sya ang economic hub and convergence zone siys ang nakakakolecta ng virus galing kung saan-saan, at siya rin ang nagdi-distribute nito. Kaya kailangan masiguro nating ligtas ‘yung Gen San,” he shared.

The vaccine czar shared that while the one-shot Janssen vaccines are specifically allocated for senior citizens (A2) and persons with comorbidities (A3), the NTF and NVOC have encouraged flexibility on the use of procured vaccines.

He said that General Santos may use Sinovac as well as Moderna in inoculating economic frontliners (A4 group) particularly fisher folk, as well as fish port and cannery workers and people above 40 years old.

“You may also use the procured vaccines to the targeted sectors like tricycle drivers and workers who are 40 years old and above. We need to be flexible here in Gen San due to the existing conditions at malapit lang dito ang Indonesian border,” he shared.

As of July 19, Region 12 has reported a total of 2,585 active COVID-19 cases, 641 of which are from General Santos City. END