Philippines Looking to Partner Ice Cream Manufacturers to Store Coronavirus Vaccines

The Philippines' cold storage facilities are not capable of storing millions of vaccines and a shortage has forced a senator to come up with the out-of-the-box solution

With a vaccine for the novel Coronavirus is on the horizon, it will see the biggest mass immunization program in the history of mankind. However, for smaller countries, there are plenty of problems to deal with including the storage of the vaccine that needs to be kept at sub-zero temperatures.

The Philippines is facing such a problem at the moment. The country's cold storage facilities aren't big enough to store vaccines for over 100 million people and thus the country is looking to partner with ice cream manufacturers to solve the problem.

The existing cold storage facilities in the Philippines do not have the capabilities because there was no need for that, Anthony Dizon, President of the Cold Chain Association of the Philippines told the Philstar Global. "Although there are some industry stakeholders who have allocated some capacity and capability for pharmaceutical products, understandably, these initiatives are scaled in accordance with market ends," he added.

Coronavirus vaccine
The Philippines has joined the COVAX alliance and has said that it would prefer vaccines from Russia and China Pixabay

Ice Cream Storage

That's the reason, Senator Francis Tolentino proposed storing the vaccines at ice cream storage facilities. While it may seem odd, it has valid arguments. Before mass mobilization of the vaccines, it must be stored at specialized facilities at temperatures as low as -80 degrees Celsius. Furthermore, different vaccines would have varied requirements, including transportation from the airport to storage and distribution facilities. However, ice cream factories have the capability to store the vaccines at their required temperature for preservation.

"Where should be the appropriate warehousing for these? They can't be stored in our refrigerators. You need a specialized freezer with a -80 degrees Celsius capacity to keep these vaccines for two weeks and if it goes past that, our money is wasted," Tolentino said at a Senate panel hearing.

As the current cold storage facilities aren't enough to keep the vaccines, a concerned Tolentino proposed that partnering with ice cream manufacturers could be a solution. "I am offering a policy solution. Why don't you, at this earliest stage, touch base with Magnolia Ice cream, Selecta Ice cream, and all other ice cream manufacturers to utilize their ice cream storage facilities?" he said.

Vaccine storage
Some of the vaccines need to be stored at -80 degrees Celsius for it to be potent (representational picture) YouTube/ Immunization Academy

Special Budget Allocation

Later, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III responded to Tolentino's question saying that the department was coordinating with the private sector to solve the problem regarding cold storage. As for distribution, the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has already proposed converting police stations into vaccine distribution facilities.

The country is also fighting a difficult battle against the Coronavirus pandemic, recording over 2,000 cases daily. Keeping that in mind, the Philippines has also joined the COVAX alliance that would see an equal distribution of Coronavirus vaccine once a candidate is approved.

To keep the fight going against the pandemic and strengthen its facilities, the Department of Health has proposed a P203.74 ($4.3 billion) billion budget for 2021 with P490 million ($10.1 million) going towards warehousing. But Health Undersecretary Carol Taino said that the amount was not proposed for the Coronavirus vaccine. Instead, it was for regular warehouse and supply chain management for different DoH programs, Taino said.