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"High Vaccine Demand Abroad Hinders Attempts to Secure More Covid-19 Vaccines". However, DOH Cannot Procure New Vaccines With the Expiry of the National Public Health Emergency.
Rollout of Bivalent jabs. Healthcare worker shortages. Migration of skilled and unskilled workers. Vergeire appointed chief of undersecretaries. More of the past 2-yr jab centric approach expected.
DOH has started distributing newly received donated C19 jabs, with the majority being distributed in NCR.
The DOH chief also renewed the call for the public to get vaccinated and not be complacent in as much as the World Health Organization has already declared an end to Covid-19 as a public health emergency.
“But we will continue to push for people to get vaccinated because it will prevent you, especially if you are at high risk of mortality.” Herbosa said.
Cases in Philippines continue to drop and deaths for 2023 remain very low; 124 as of 3 June 2023. Active cases affect about 0.00895% of the population, nearly all of which are mild or asymptomatic). [Compare with the 70 estimated deaths each day from tuberculosis! The ongoing focus on Covid-19 is clearly grossly misplaced!].
Then further down, the same article admits that the DOH can no longer procure Covid-19 vaccines because following the expiry of the state of public health emergency; the EUA only allows the consumption of in-stock vaccines. Any new procurement is subject to regular procurement rules which require a certificate of product registration (CPR); the product having been approved for market release following usual procedures. Covid-19 Vaccines are NOT APPROVED products.
Shortage of Bivalent Vaccines?
Herbosa claims that all other countries are scrambling to get bivalent products!
This is belied by the OWID site, which seems to show that worldwide demand for all Covid-19 injectables has slumped to an all-time low. Reported worldwide dosing on 7th June 2023 was given as just over 163,000 doses. If we assume a world population of 8 billion that means only 1 person out of every 49 million persons on the planet (0.000002% of the population) received a dose of vaccine on 7th of June 2023. A mad scramble indeed!
Dosing is some countries is apparently so low it is no longer even being reported.
Regardless, DOH is set to launch start administration of the 391K doses of bivalent Pfizer product by 21st June 2023, starting with the Philippines Heart Center [Ironic given known cardiac sequelae for some recipients following these jabs].
The donated bivalent vaccines are required to be used before November 2023, as their shelf-life is only 6 months (which would have been extended from the original 6 months, considering that they have been donated after not being used in Lithuania). The Philippines EUAs currently allows total shelf-life of up to 18 months for Covid-19 vaccines.
Given adverse reactions seen in international settings, and the targeting of elderly, infirm, and health care workers concerned citizens will be watching carefully for the outcomes of these products. The Philippines cannot afford to lose any healthcare workers for any reason!
Healthcare Worker Shortages
Indeed, one of the other problems which has landed on Secretary Herbosa’s table is the addressing of the chronic health care worker shortage in the Philippines. To deal with the reported government hospital staffing shortfall of 4,800 nurses, the DOH is considering hiring of “board eligibles”, i.e. unlicensed graduates of health care programs and giving them 3 to 5 years to become licensed. DOH are also (correctly) looking at how to improve employment packages and conditions to retain healthcare workers in the Philippines.
Will Use of Unlicensed Staff Increase Rates of Medical Misadventures?
While having sufficient HCW is necessary, it should not forgotten that medical errors are a major cause of death [estimated as 3rd leading cause of death in the US in 2016]. The use of unqualified staff may exacerbate safety issues.
One of the contributors to HCW shortage in the Philippines is the overseas migration off trained professionals. Filipino nurses and health care workers are in high demand abroad; many leaving to seek better salaries and living conditions than they can get in the Philippines.
Migration has long been considered a way to improve economic status and seek a better life; families actively encourage members to work overseas. This 2017 article reports that about 10% of Filipinos live and work outside of the Philippines.
While many Filipinos work in labor intensive jobs such as domestic helpers, drivers, laborers [PSA refers to these as elementary occupations}; there is also a mass exodus of engineers, teachers, healthcare workers and others.
Current international labor shortages will further exacerbate these trends as nations seek to recruit English-speaking Filipinos to fill positions they are unable to fill with their own citizens.
Given the sharp economic downturn in the Philippines over the Covid-19 pandemic years these OFW inflows kept many families afloat, even when they were not permitted to work during lockdowns. Inward remittances between April and September 2021 were estimated to reach PHP151 billion.
New DOH secretary Herbosa has appointed Vergeire as Chief of DOH undersecretaries, a position he gave her upon request.
It sure looks like nothing is set to change in the near future.