EXPLAINER: ‘Way klaro’ on vaccines Cebu City will buy. No single vial signed up for yet. City to keep relying on national government supply. P2B needed for 1.4M ‘herd’ doses.

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THE Cebu City Council, which grants the mayor authority to buy its own anti-Covid-19 vaccines, finally publicly declared that their efforts have proved fruitless so far.

A stand-by fund of P500 million has remained unspent. Mayor Edgardo Labella has issued a letter of intent for P100 million worth of Novovax and P100 million AstraZeneca but the supply terms agreement for each have not yet been signed. In sum, no commitment yet for a single dose from any supplier.

The vaccines that come in installments to Cebu City are all from the national government, on which the city has to rely totally until it can buy its own doses.

‘WAY KLARO.’ Majority Flooleader Raymond Garcia told the Sanggunian at its special session Friday, May 7, "Wa pa gyu’y klaro." The presiding officer, Vice Mayor Michael Rama, conceded: “We don’t know the outcome. We don’t what vaccines will come.”

Even Mike Quijano, representing Vital, marketing group for Covaxin in the Philippines and appearing before the City Council for the second time, said the first shipment of its brand is expected in early June.

But, he conceded on Councilor Alvin Dizon’s question about the situation in India where Covaxin is manufactured. that “everything is fluid.” Quijano said he’s “keeping his fingers crossed and wishing” nothing would stop or delay the shipment. (The supplier of Novovax, also made in India, reportedly banned export of its vaccine for lack of materials.) But was Covaxin even issued a letter of intent yet?

COUNCIL STILL UPBEAT. Despite the acceptance of the crisis on vaccines supply, the Sanggunian Friday decided:

[1] On motion of Councilor Garcia, to invite representatives of Moderna and Gamaleya Research Institute’s Sputnik V at a special session, apparently to continue the city’s search for vaccines to buy. That is, if those suppliers would agree; Johnson and Johnson earlier politely rebuffed the councilors’ invitation.

[2] On motion of Councilor Dizon, to invite the City Health Office to update the councilors on the city’s vaccination program on other viruses, particularly the flu. Dizon said improving the immune system of city residents, particularly the poor, will help the fight against Covid-19.

[3] The Vaccine Convenors will continue increasing the number of vaccination sites, targeted at 15 to 21, and waging its information campaign in the barangays.

‘EVERYTHING CENTRALIZED.’ Seen by a number of local governments as not helping solve the problem of lack of vaccines is that any local government unit (LGU) purchase has to be the result of a tripartite agreement, which VM Rama said has been expanded to a pact of four: LGU, Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), Department of Health (DOH), and the supplier. (Rama apparently doesn’t count IATF and DOH as one, representing the central government.)

“Everything is centralized,” he told the Sanggunian when asked by Councilor Dizon if the city’s purchase would be done by bidding. Prices and supply terms are uniform, Rama said. Besides, he didn’t say, given the shortage of supply, who’d submit to a bidding when there are many others willing to buy even at higher prices?

CONVENORS P2B GOAL. Rama, who also heads the Vaccination Convenors, earlier said the group’s goal is to vaccinate 700,000 people ( out of the city’s estimated 993,744 population as of 2021, or about 70 percent) to achieve what is called “herd” or “community” immunity. Under the concept, a virus can no longer spread easily because enough number of people have become immune via vaccination.

In Friday’s session, Rama disclosed that they estimated the cost at P2 billion for 1.4 million vaccines at two doses per person. No councilor asked if the city government can get the money and willing to spend the amount. And how would they fit into the city’s herd immunity plan with the national government’s own plan for the same immunity?

Last February 8, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the Philippines aims to achieve herd immunity by 2023. Earlier, DOH Secretary Carlito Galvez said the government, for that goal, intends to vaccinate 75 percent to 80 percent of the population, estimated at 110.59 million as of 2021.