MANILA — The disposal of the 44 million wasted Covid-19 vaccines will be done through pyrolysis or decomposition by high temperature, but the disposal of the ashes remains unclear.
During the public hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee chaired by Sen. Francis Tolentino, resource persons from the Department of Health (DOH) could not say where the ashes of the processed 44 million expired vaccines will be taken as the Department of Environment and Natural Resource (DENR) is in charge of the matter.
The senator said the DENR would be invited to the next public hearing to provide information on the vaccine ashes’ “final resting place.”
He asked the DOH to find a way how to properly dispose of the reported millions of expired doses of procured and donated Covid-19 vaccines in the country amid its potential risk to public health and safety.
The senator raised concern over the potential “deleterious effects” of not properly disposing of the unused but expired COVID vaccines, considering that some types of vaccines were either “protein-based” or contain inactivated virus.
Based on the health department’s inventory last December, there were about 44 million doses that had been wasted, including the 24.6 million doses that had gone unused past their shelf life and the 6.7 million that were discarded due to “operational” lapses in their storage or handling, according to DOH officer-in-charge Usec. Ma. Rosario Vergeire.
Ma. Joyce Ducusin of the DOH Supply Chain Management said the DOH has hired a third-party logistics firm for the disposal, Integrated Waste Management Inc.
Ducusin said all the vaccine vials, empty or not, were subjected to procedure through guidelines by placing them in plastic containers, then loaded in boxes or containers to be sealed. The boxes or containers will contain labels including brands, doses, expiry dates and other information about the vaccines.
“The disposal is pyrolysis, this is through burning,” she said, noting that the final disposal of the ashes will be in Clark. She could not elaborate.
Tolentino has expressed doubts and hesitation over the supposed location of the disposal site, considering that the facility is just a few kilometers away from the Athlete’s Village where several members of the Philippine national team are currently training for upcoming local and international sports tournaments.
Anthony Cu of the DOH Field Implementation and Coordination Team assured the Senate that “if the concern is the infectiousness of these particular waste, a health care waste management being observed in the same protocol processing of the wastage of other materials from other hospitals. We make sure that these wastes are no longer infectious before actually disposing them. The entire process makes it sterile and no longer infectious.”
Some 64 new Omicron subvariant cases were detected in the country, according to the DOH’s latest Biosurveillance Report.
Distribution of recently sequenced samples by the University of the Philippines-Philippine Genome Center and Southern Philippines Medical Center from Feb. 13 to 17 showed 28 cases of BA.2.3.20.
The BA.2.3.20 cases were found in Ilocos Region (2), Central Luzon (1), Bicol Region (2), Western Visayas (7), Soccsksargen (3), Calabarzon (7), Mimaropa (1) and the National Capital Region or NCR (5).
Meanwhile, two cases of BA.5, particularly BQ.1 were detected – one from Western Visayas and the other from NCR.
The report also noted 16 cases of XBB wherein 7 were found in NCR; 3 in Calabarzon, 2 in Soccsksargen and 1 each in Central Luzon, Western Visayas and Caraga. The last one was identified as a returning overseas Filipino worker. There were also two XBC cases found in Davao Region.
At the same time, the DOH said eight other Omicron subvariants were found in Central Luzon (1), Soccsksargen (3), Caraga (2), NCR (1) while one case is still being verified. The report added there were eight variants with no lineage assigned that were also monitored. These were detected in Cagayan Valley (1), Western Visayas (5) and NCR (2).