EXPLAINER: Why most Cebu City residents would've to wait longer to be vaccinated. City Council revises convenors estimate: from 3-5 months until 2025 to six months with no year limit. Glimpse of rollout plan.

Pachico A. Seares
·5 min read

IF YOU reside in a local government like Cebu City, don't think you will have your vaccine against Covid-19 soon, meaning in a few weeks or so.

The Vaccine Convenors Group (VCG) in the city, led by Vice Mayor Mike Rama and City Administrator Floro Casas Jr., thinks it can finish its initial vaccination operations in three to five months "from arrival of the vaccines" and close the program in 2025.

In a regular session of the City Council Wednesday, March 10, the Sanggunian revised the VCG estimate of three-to-five months to six months from arrival of the vaccines, leaving open the year of the program shutdown.

Councilor Noel Archival, minority floor leader, moved for the change, which Vice Mayor Rama, who submitted for VCG the rollout plan, accepted. Councilor Alvin Dizon of BOPK also noted "the race against time," echoing the warning of experts that the longer it would take to vaccinate for herd immunity, the more time the virus could transform and be tougher to check its spread.

CONVENORS' PROJECTION. Rama said the projection of 2025 is based on an expected growing number of people who may reject the vaccine: "what do we do with the vaccines if there are no takers (whom he called clients)"? Convincing them could take time, although Rama didn't show actual numbers.

Plus: how many vaccines could the city get from the National Government and how many could it buy with its own money.

The vice mayor didn't specify the targeted percentage of the population but in his privileged speech, as a member of the Sanggunian and head of the Vaccine Convenors Group, he mentioned "50 to 60 percent." Cebu City's population in 2021 is estimated at 993,744.

The experts whom the VCG must have consulted say a community reaches the point of collective immunity and the virus is no longer likely to spread if the vaccines total "roughly 50 percent to 80 percent."

By the VCG's more modest reckoning, Cebu City would need 993,000 doses (at 50 percent) to 1.19 million doses (at 60 percent). Thus the huge problem that goes with it: could they secure enough vaccines to meet the goal? How much would it cost the city to reach the threshold and for how long?

WOULD CEBU CITY HAVE ENOUGH? (a) Enough number of doses it could get free from the central government and enough number of vials Cebu City's own sum of P500 million could buy, so as to achieve herd immunity? (b) Enough time to vaccinate the right number of people before the virus could mutate and cause more injury or death?

When public officials speak of vaccines, they refer to vaccines donated by the National Government and vaccines the City Government will buy on its own. A private group or company has yet to announce a plan to buy vaccines for its members or for other people in the community.

The national anti-Covid task force has so far sent 7,200 doses of China's CoronaVac and 30,000 doses of Oxford, England's AstraZeneca. The mayor and the VCG are completing the supply agreement with Fiberco, supplier of US-developed Covovax. The vaccines would arrive in the city in six months, from the time the order is finalized and sealed.

Thus, as a city resident must realize, he or she is not getting the vaccine very soon. Healthcare workers and others in the top priority list are being vaccinated with the initial shipment. The general population has to wait much longer. Those who plan to reject vaccination might have no chance to reject anything.

COUNCILORS HEAD CLUSTERS. VM Rama has succeeded in getting the councilors actually involved in the actual operations against Covid-19. That, after the Sanggunian authorized which vaccines to intend to buy and created the VCG led by its presiding officer, with clusters managed by councilors.

The Sanggunian used to complain of being shut out from the work in combating the pandemic, particularly in distributing aid to constituents, with the mayor and some favored councilors "hogging" the functions of the executive department and the goodwill of voters.

The eight clusters under the VCG structure are led by councilors. On top of the chart is Mayor Labella whom Mike Rama calls the "vaccine czar." Directly underneath is Rama who describes himself as "convenor" and, "more fittingly," the "orchestrator," with City Administrator Floro Casas Jr. as assistant convenor/orchestrator.

LOTS OF ADVISERS. There's a long list of advisers in the Advisory Board, from DOH to DILG to the Cebu archbishop, including notably the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (OPAV) and the Vaccines Board earlier created by the mayor.

How does that work for the last two entities? It could mean OPAV would just advise the VCG on vaccines application, even if those doses come from the National Government. The Vaccines Board may not have been absorbed ("subsumed," as the mayor put it) but now in the VCG, it just advises.

The VCG structure looks top-heavy and multi-layered but it might work with few expected kinks. The plan seems to cover everything, from procurement of vaccines to preparing sites, storage, teams, transporting vaccines, feeding workers, and identifying those to be inoculated and monitoring them after vaccination.

To come up with the rollout plan, Rama said, they have held 25 meetings, conferences and caucuses, including three Sanggunian special sessions. And more of the same still ahead.