Lessons from Delta variant: Vaccination, consistency in observance of minimum health standards
CEBU CITY, Philippines – The implementation of another round of stricter community quarantine revived the anxieties and uncertainties that Cebuanos felt in 2020. But the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination rollout provided the much-needed hope of living normal lives soon.
While under Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ), the three largest cities – Cebu, Lapu-Lapu, and Mandaue – continue to inoculate more and more individuals against the infection.
Furthermore, their immunization coverage rates are starting to pick up.
Cebu officially began the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines last March with healthcare workers assigned at the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC), the largest COVID-referral hospital in Central Visayas.
Healthcare workers, who were constantly exposed and at risk of getting the infection, were the government’s priority in their vaccination campaign.
By August, Central Visayas achieved a significant milestone after the Department of Health here (DOH-7) reported that around 92 percent of the region’s more than 131,000 medical frontliners were already fully vaccinated against the infection.
However, the turnout remains low among senior citizens, the second most vulnerable group next to health workers.
The government’s COVID-19 vaccination drive is set to include the rest of the population this year.
In Cebu, some local governments have already started masterlisting adolescents ages 12 to 17 years old.
This after the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) granted US-manufactured COVID vaccine brand Moderna emergency use for children within such age group.
Moderna is the second COVID vaccine brand authorized to inoculate children. Pfizer, also manufactured in the U.S., was the first to secure the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for children ages 12 to 15 years old.
Vaccination vs. Delta Variant
The Delta variant is currently the dominant strain of SARS-CoV-2 in the Philippines and the U.S. It is responsible for most of the severe and critical cases of COVID-19.
And experts both local and abroad point to vaccination as the most effective protection against the infection.
“The COVID-19 vaccines approved or authorized in the United States are highly effective at preventing severe disease and death, including against the Delta variant,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.
“But they are not 100 percent effective, and some fully vaccinated people will become infected (called a breakthrough infection) and experience illness. For all people, the vaccine provides the best protection against serious illness and death,” it added.
Local health experts shared the same observation and added that consistency in following health protocols such as the constant wearing of face masks, frequent hand washing, and physical distancing would serve as added protection.
To date, there are no reported deaths in Central Visayas due to the COVID-19 vaccine. Health officials dismissed most mortalities reportedly linked to the vaccination due to lack of evidence.
Incentivizing Vaccinated Individuals
The vaccination rollout and a growing number of people getting vaccinated also gave the public and private sector something to look forward to – a gradual and safe reopening of the already battered economy.
And one of their solutions is to provide more mobility for fully inoculated people, especially now that the government’s vaccination drive has included non-medical essential workers. Tagged as A4, they are the second biggest pool among all sub-priority groups qualified to receive free COVID-19 vaccines in Central Visayas.
Based on the data from the Visayan Vaccination Operations Center (VVOC), close to 1 million people belonged to the A4 subgroup.
In Cebu City, the local government allowed restaurants and other similar establishments to offer dine-in services for those who are either partially or fully vaccinated against COVID-19. All they have to do is present their vaccination cards.
The move earned praises from business communities here and in Metro Manila.
Cebu province, for its part, decided to shorten the quarantine period for fully inoculated returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) arriving at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA), and residing here, from seven to only five days.
The 2020 census showed that Central Visayas’ population has grown to 8 million, around 3 million more than the 5 million recorded in 2015.
A total of 2.23 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, as of September 9, were already administered in all four provinces – Cebu, Bohol, Siquijor, and Negros Oriental, according to the report from the VVOC.
Of this number, approximately 1.7 million are from Cebu. Further breakdown of the figures translates to 997, 652 individuals who already received their first dose and 666,391 who got their second dose and were considered as fully vaccinated.
Overall, the COVID-19 immunization rate in the island-province currently stands at 20 percent for those partially vaccinated (1st dose), and 13 percent for those who completed their inoculation schedule (2nd dose).
In Cebu City, officials are aiming to achieve herd immunity as it targets to inoculate 700,000 of its population of 960,000 by December, and they are optimistic in reaching the goal as long as the supply of COVID-19 vaccines is steady enough to meet demand.
As of September 9, the same data from VVOC showed that the city already vaccinated 310,690 individuals for the 1st dose while 194,672 were already fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Cebu, as an island, has a total population of roughly 5.1 million
Lessons from the ‘Fruitful MECQ’
When September came, the COVID-19 situation in Cebu began to improve. While hospitals have yet to fully recover from being overwhelmed, fewer admissions were already made this month.
As of September 9, the DOH’s COVID-19 tracker showed that average critical care utilization rates in the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu-Lapu – where most tertiary hospitals in Cebu are located – have eased to 65.5 percent, down by 10 points from 75 percent during the height of the MECQ phase in August.
Local officials described these developments as “the fruits” of the stringent protocols imposed and said they were glad the public’s sacrifices did not go to waste.
In addition, their reminders have also evolved.
Instead of simply reiterating their calls to continue to follow health protocols, local officials pointed out that consistency in doing so, regardless of the prevailing quarantine status, mattered more and could work better in preventing another deadly wave of COVID-19 infections, especially that the Holiday seasons are drawing near.
This is the conclusion of a two-part special feature. You can read the first part of the report by clicking this link.
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