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The number of IPs in the vax drive has increased in GenSan

Members of an indigenous peoples (IP) group in General Santos City’s isolated Barangay San Jose are getting vaccinated against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), putting to rest their long-held belief that the vaccine is harmful to their health.

Dr. Jett Gajete-Oco, city health officer and chief of the local inter-agency task force (IATF) addressing Covid-19, said it took some time for an estimated 1,000 IPs to submit themselves to vaccination, but they were able to do a “turnaround” on the IPs’ health situation with the help of responsive barangay officials.

“Our plan is to bridge leadership by engaging all barangay captains through the local IATF to have ‘ownership of the immunization campaign,’ rather than relying simply on the rural health unit to deliver services,” Oco said in a statement released on Saturday to the Philippine News Agency (PNA).

She claimed that in reaction, the IP community of San Jose acted favorably and joined other barangays in a major immunization drive.

“As a result, we formed a new organization with the 609 purok (sitio) officials, who were tasked with encouraging their unvaccinated citizens and enlisting the help of private partners,” Oco explained.

She stated that with the good cooperation of all sectors, including the IPs in San Jose village, they were able to bring the “Bakuna Bus” to the area in order to reach the far-flung sitios and provide immunizations to the IP communities.

“In addition to the Bakuna Bus, we also deployed the rural health unit in remote locations on special days.” “San Jose (village) is an example,” she explained.

IP community that is responsive

Dr. Karl Igrobay, medical officer for the barangays of San Jose and Fatima, said in a phone interview on Saturday that the rapid surge in IPs in their immunization programs starting December 2021 astonished even him.

“All of the IP village leaders have been so attentive to our appeal for immunization that they are now phoning people who are unvaccinated and getting themselves immunized,” he explained.

According to Igrobay, the IPs in San Jose belong to the local B’laan community. According to him, the barangay has roughly 12,000 mixed settlers, including Christians, Muslims, and indigenous peoples.

He described an incident in San Jose’s Sitio Biao in October of last year, when numerous IPs became sick with Covid-19. Some of them died as well.

“This acted as a wake-up call for the IPs to get themselves immunized,” he added, adding that the Delta variant was still prevalent in parts of the country at the time, including General Santos City.

The Delta variation, according to Igrobay, has generated panic among the B’laan settlers.

“Their dread (of the virus) was exacerbated by the presence of the Omicron form in various sections of the country,” he said.

He claimed that during the last two weeks of December 2021 alone, more than 400 IPs had submitted themselves for vaccination.

“Despite our crew being undermanned, we are pleased with the tremendous response from the two communities, especially the IPs,” Igrobay remarked.

His vaccination team of four nurses and four midwives, aided by a dentist and a medical technician, vaccinated 1,167 villagers in San Jose and Fatima on Friday alone, he added.

“We’ve been so enthused by the response that we’ve extended our work hours till late at night,” he said.

So far, he claims, his team has vaccinated around 30,000 people in the two communities they’ve been assigned to.

Fatima and San Jose barangays are about 25 kilometers from the city proper. It shares a boundary with T’boli, an upland village in South Cotabato.

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