Appoint empowered DoH chief, BBM urged

The private sector advisory council formed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has asked him to appoint an empowered, decisive and effective secretary of the Department of Health (DoH), council member and Go Negosyo chairperson Joey Concepcion said Thursday.

Concepcion explained that council members want the government to resolve the issue of more than P5 billion worth of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) vaccines that have expired amid emerging variants of the virus first detected in Wuhan, China.

He said that 4,252,830 Covid-19 vaccines have gone to waste in private sector warehouses alone, translating to a loss of P5.1 billion spent to procure them from abroad.

The former presidential adviser on entrepreneurship under the Duterte administration lamented what he described as the late decision of the DoH and the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) to allow second Covid booster vaccinations for Filipinos 50 years and older, and for those aged 18 to 49 with comorbidities.

The last batch of AstraZeneca vaccines delivered to the country expired last 31 July, while the last of the imported Moderna vaccines expired last 27 July.

‘Too slow’

“Since April, we’ve been advising the DoH to follow the Centers for Disease Control of the United States, where a 50-years-old can already acquire the second booster shot,” Concepcion said.

“They are too slow to decide amid the expiring vaccines. If these vaccines were given to others, then we could have prevented expiration,” he said during his interview with Straight Talk, the digital show of the Daily Tribune.

He said that while there are too many committees to give input on the government’s vaccination strategies, like the HTAC, the Food and Drug Administration, and a vaccine expert panel, there is no single person empowered to have a final say.

He said the DoH chief should be given the power to make timely critical decisions. “The committee can advise, but somebody has to decide. That’s the problem we see but they can eventually settle that,” according to Concepcion.

Conflicting views

Asked if the Covax Facility will replace the expired vaccines, Concepcion said he doesn’t know.

Last 15 July, Mr. Marcos has chosen Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire as officer-in-charge of the DoH, with her holding the post until the end of the month or until the nomination of a permanent health department chief by the President.

“Undersecretary Vergeire has the holdover capacity, but she is not the secretary to decide. Committees at DoH should be also cleared with regards to their functions,” Concepcion pointed out.

“Committees have always had conflicting views, and we should have a decision-maker this time, especially since we are [going] towards the reopening of face-to-face classes and there will be no lockdowns anymore, as promised by the President,” he added.

Also, the Philippines is bracing for the emergence of Covid-19 new variant, identified by the DoH on Tuesday as “Centaurus” after two individuals in Central Visayas tested positive for the variant.

Dubbed by the World Health Organization as BA.2.75, Centaurus is said to be more contagious and capable of being vaccine resistant compared to most variants of Covid-19
Vergeire, in an announcement, said that the infected individuals from the Visayas were confirmed through a genome sequencing run from 30 July to 1 August.

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