Only 39% of General Santos’ elderly – the sector most vulnerable to COVID-19, along with those with comorbidities – have been fully inoculated so far, a low turnout blamed on thin vaccine supplies and hesitancy fanned by faith-based misinformation.
The Office of the Senior Citizens Affairs on Monday, September 27, sounded the alarm as it pointed out that only 13,676 of the city’s 35,000 senior citizens received full vaccination as of September 24.
Celso Mendoza, OSCA head in General Santos, said another 14,021 senior citizens were still waiting for their second jabs.
Mendoza blamed the low turnout mainly on the limited vaccine doses allocated by the Department of Health for General Santos.
Another factor, he said, was that many elderly residents were reluctant to get inoculated because of the widespread misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccines that breed fear.
Businessman Edmundo Cejar said several preachers have gone to the extent of warning churchgoers against getting inoculated.
In the neighboring town of Malungon in Sarangani, Cejar said, churchgoers have been told by their ministers that the COVID-19 vaccination program was contrary to the teachings of the Bible, and that “Jesus alone and your prayers will protect you and not the vaccines.”
Cejar said several church groups have been teaching that the vaccine doses contain microchips that serve as the “666” identification code prophesied in the Book of Revelation.
“That kind of misinformation spreads and scares people,” Cejar said as he called on the government to step up its COVID-19 information campaign.
Mendoza said OSCA has started helping in bringing the information campaign to the villages, especially in far-flung barangays, to convince the elderly and their families to get vaccinated.
General Santos has logged 13,150 COVID-19 cases since 2020, the second highest in Soccsksargen based on data from the Department of Health as of September 26.
City hall said it was working to inoculate 70% of the population to achieve herd immunity either by October or November.
The target is seen as a tall order for a city that has only fully vaccinated 72,091 of its 800,000 population as of September 24.
Rommel Rebollido is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship