The year 2021 had a rough start, as the entire country, particularly Davao Region experienced a surge of Covid-19 cases that overwhelmed the healthcare system.

Health experts attributed it to the post-Holiday non-essential gatherings, which were highly discouraged, yet disregarded by some.

Health experts said that in order to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus, there is a need to abide by the minimum public health standards such as wearing face masks, face shields as needed, washing hands with soap and water, or alcohol, and observing physical distancing.

But another layer of protection was also being encouraged – getting the Covid-19 vaccine.

On February 28, the Philippines’ first batch of coronavirus vaccines arrived in the country, paving the way for the start of its mass inoculation campaign with shots developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who personally welcomed the first transport of the Covid-19 supplies when it landed at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City, encouraged Filipinos to get their Covid-19 shot amid apprehensions not only of the vaccine itself but of brand preferences too.

“To my fellow Filipinos, these vaccines are backed by science and deliberated by our Filipino experts. I encourage that you get vaccinated at the soonest possible time and be a partner in preventing the further spread of the disease,” Duterte said in a speech.

Covid-19 vaccines arrived in Davao Region

On Tuesday morning March 2, the first batch of Sinovac BioTech vaccines, containing 12,000 doses, arrived at Francisco Bangoy International Airport via a Philippine Airlines (PAL) flight at 6:15 a.m.

Two days later, the second batch of the Sinovac BioTech vaccine containing 21,600 doses arrived.

On March 5, 2021, Davao Region started vaccinating medical frontliners against Covid-19 at the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC).

From then 33,600 doses of Sinovac in March this year, the region had already received a total of 7,705,030 doses composed of various brands such as CoronaVac (Sinovac), Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Gamaleya Sputnik V, Johnson&Johnson's Janssen, Moderna, and Sinopharm.

The region's vaccination program had been administered into different priority groups: A1 (medical health workers), A2 (senior citizens), A3 (persons with comorbidities), A4 (essential frontliners), A5 (indigent population), and the general population. However, in late October this year, the national DOH had approved the vaccination of pediatric age groups 12 to 17 years old.

The target population of 70 percent in the region is 3,759,878.

DOH-Davao has not yet provided an updated figure for the entire December. But based on November 21 data, a total of 1,925,617 were already administered for the first dose, while 1,653,321 are fully vaccinated after either receiving their second dose or getting vaccinated with the one-shot Janssen vaccine.

Vaccination campaign in Davao City

Davao City, the "ground zero" of the Covid-19 transmission in the region, was the first to implement its vaccination rollout.

The city is the top local government unit in Davao Region with the most vaccinated individuals, recording 88 percent of the target population protection coverage for the first dose as of December 3, 2021.

But this wasn't an overnight accomplishment.

When the vaccine rollout started in the second quarter of the year, supply was still limited.

Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, during the early days of the pandemic, said that while they are relying on the government's supply, she had appealed to also prioritize the city, which at that time was a high-risk area.

Back then, the city had to strictly manage its limited vaccine supply. The city required individuals to register through the Safe Davao QR to get a vaccination appointment.

However, as the months went on, more vaccines arrived in the Philippines. As a result, the city also started to receive an ample supply of vaccines against the Covid-19.

With an ample supply of vaccines, the city was able to implement various strategies to fast track its vaccination. The city was not only opening more vaccination hubs but it also conducted house-to-house vaccinations, mobile vaccinations led by the Davao City councilors, drive-thru vaccinations at People’s Park, and the “Bakuna Nights” (evening vaccination) for those workers who cannot visit the vaccination hubs during daytime due to work. Walk-ins were also being accepted in almost all the vaccination sites in the city around the third quarter of 2021.

Task Force Spokesperson Dr. Michelle Schlosser said there was no more reason for some Dabawenyos not to get vaccinated after the city made it more accessible.

These strategies allowed the city to reach more than 50 percent of the targeted 1,299,894 Dabawenyos to be vaccinated before the end of 2021.

From the average 10,000 daily vaccinated individuals, the city had stepped it up to 15,000, and eventually, above 40,000 after the city participated in the National Vaccination Drive dubbed as “Bayanihan Bakunahan.”

But for some of the health experts, the pace of the city’s vaccination rate remains despite having made Covid-19 vaccination more accessible to Dabawenyos.

Schlosser cited apprehension from the vaccine due to personal fears, misinformation, religious belief, or fear among colleagues or peers. But the city had intensified its information campaign to address this.

The information campaign eventually bore its fruits. Schlosser noted that they were able to achieve more than 90-percent of the target population after the campaign. As of December 27, she said the city had already vaccinated 1,225,944 first dose (94.31 percent of the total herd immunity, and 1,111,102 second dose (85.48 percent of the total herd immunity).

Beginning January 3, 2021 vaccinations sites in the city will now start accepting walk-ins for Covid-19 booster shots for the general public.

Dr. Josephine Villafuerte, Covid-19 Vaccination program head for Davao City, said individuals who had their second dose more than three months ago are entitled to a booster shot of their choice.

This after DOH issued an advisory to shorten the interval between the second dose vaccination and booster dose shot from six months to three months.

Duterte-Carpio in her recent interview said they are hoping to vaccinate all Dabawenyos and had them vaccinated with the booster shot in anticipation of a possible surge in early 2022.

Amid a slow start, the vaccination roll-out in Davao Region and Davao City eventually gained momentum. Health experts have emphasized that vaccination is among the factors that kept the Covid-19 at bay. As a result, this has also helped keep Covid-19 cases in the region low towards the end of 2021. (RGL)