EXPLAINER: Where Cebu City is on inoculation: vaccines come in trickles, many vaccinees still to be persuaded

Pachico A. Seares
·4 min read

'WHERE ARE WE ON VACCINES?' Cebu City Vice Mayor Michael Rama started with that rhetorical question the update on the city's response to Covid-19 during its regular session Thursday, April 15.

As chairman of the Vaccine Convenors, Rama reported that as of this week:

[1] The City Government relies on vaccines supplied by the National Government but the doses have come in trickles. For example, even as they were talking about vaccines, DOH's Ibones interrupted the session with a call to Rama, telling him the city would get 500 doses to be used by Monday, April 20. "Mao ni ilang style, tag 500," the vice mayor told his colleagues, noting that the manner of delivery would not enable a "massive, continuous" vaccination.

[2] A shipment of 10,000 doses of Sinovax is coming, a heads-up to Rama from Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque but the vice mayor did not know yet when the vaccines would arrive.

[3] As to the city's own purchase of Covovax, P200 million worth, from Faberco, there is yet no purchase order. What they got is the term sheet that Faberco provided all interested LGUs and the national government. So it is not yet known when that will be shipped from India. Still, the City Council decided Thursday, April 15, to authorize the mayor to include in its purchase an "option" for another P100 million worth of Covovax vaccines.

[4] The City Council will hear during a special session this Monday, April 19, the supplier of Covaxin developed by Bharat Biotech of India and marketed in the Philippines by "Vital Group," which Rama said is composed of Cebuanos based in Manila. If the city would decide to buy Covaxin, it would be paid from the remaining P300 million in its budget for vaccines.

[5] They have no exact figures on number of health workers and other frontliners vaccinated from the supply that reportedly arrived in Cebu City, intended for the entire Central Visayas: as of March 16, a total of 107,160 doses of CoronaVac or Sinovac from China and AstraZeneca, from a British pharmaceutical firm -- all donations. Only health workers have so far been vaccinated. Rama debunked the report that senior citizens were already being inoculated.

By Rama's estimate, about 30,000 doses were already used on health workers, which would only be 0.0214 of the 1.4 million city population. Don't talk yet of herd or population immunity: the World Health Organization says "substantial proportion," without specifying the percentage. For measles, it was 95 percent; polio, 80 percent. Even if they place the threshold at 70 percent, Cebu City residents can see the staggering number of anti-Covid doses required.

ARCHIVAL IMPATIENT, MIKE UPBEAT. Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival expressed some disgust when he requested for a copy of the purchase order with Faberco. Rama responded: Only a term sheet, which we already have, no P.O. yet. Archival's reply: "Sige lang ta diay istorya niini, wa pa gyud diay?"

Rama conceded the delay but he said Cebu City is "better" than many other LGUs, citing: "We have the connections (with high officials), we have the money and the people, we have the structure in place." What they clearly don't still have: the vaccines.

CURSE AND BLESSING. On vaccines, the City Council decided already to buy P200 million worth plus an "option" for P100 million more of Covovax from Faberco. On top of that, the possible purchase of Covaxin from "Vital Group," whose representatives the City Council will hear April 20. But by previous estimate, delivery could take up from three to six months yet, counted from date of order.

Majority Floorleader Raymond Garcia told his colleagues Thursday they have to accept the reality that the rich countries, especially those who manufactured the vaccines, enjoy priority of access. VM Rama used the cliché "beggars are not choosers" in deploring the drip-drip-drip of supply from the national government.

While supply is a curse, it could also be a blessing in a twisted sense. Cebu City does not have the vaccines in the desire quantity and flow and yet it could be facing the problem of vaccine hesitancy. Many people, the councilors believe, would not like to be vaccinated.

INFORMATION BLITZ. They can't give figures, however, on how many city residents do not like to be jabbed. Councilor Franklyn Ong of the Association of Barangay Councils merely said that the vaccine-shy are mostly those in sitios and outlying areas; residents of subdivisions and villages are willing to submit to inoculation.

VM Rama rallied Sanggunian members to join him in an information campaign that would address seniors in 80 barangays, which he estimated to take them three days. Councilor Alvin Dizon suggested that medical experts, not politicians, persuade reluctant would-be vaccines. Rama though doubled down on tapping Sanggunian members for the "carousel" vaccine-education blitz.