What are Cuenca expats doing about Covid vaccines? A doctor’s survey and some short case studies

Jun 3, 2021 | 26 comments

By Liam Higgins

How many Cuenca expats have been vaccinated against Covid-19? Where are they getting their shots? How many don’t plan to be vaccinated?

More than half of Cuenca expats surveyed say they plan to get their vaccines locally. (El Mercurio)

Greg Sorenson, a retired family practice doctor from Atlanta, was curious and decided to conduct survey. “Like most of us, I’ve been asking around about what people are doing regarding vaccines and decided to put together some numbers,” he says. “You can get piecemeal information on social media sites but there’s nothing really comprehensive about how expats are responding to the pandemic.”

In all, Sorenson talked to 19 expat friends and acquaintances. “This was obviously an informal survey and I don’t make claims for its statistical accuracy. On the other hand, considering the folks I talked to, I think it’s a pretty fair overview,” he says.

Of the 19 he asked, 11 have been vaccinated, seven of them in Cuenca, three in the U.S. and one in Canada. Of the others, four say they will get their shots in Cuenca while four plan to travel to the U.S.

“I was surprised that no one said they definitely would not be vaccinated – so no anti-vaxxers in the group,” Sorenson said. “One couple told me they would wait a few months to see how their friends did with the vaccine but they changed their mind and flew to New Jersey last week to visit the family and get their shots. They have a son in university in Belgium and decided it would be easier to travel to see him if they were vaccinated.”

Barbara and Douglas Morgan were among the expats who decided to receive their vaccinations in Cuenca. (El Comercio)

For those getting vaccinated in North America, the main reason was concern about the effectiveness of the Sinovac and Sputnik V vaccines. “People told me they were more comfortable with the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson and didn’t think they would be able to choose their shots in Cuenca.”

Of those who have been vaccinated, three reported serious after-effects. “One guy said he spent a day-and-a-half in bed and one couple told me they were ‘whacked out’ the day after their shots,” Sorenson said. “All of them fully recovered in two or three days.”

Sorenson asked the expats if they had lost family members or close friends to Covid. “I was surprised that seven said they had. One man lost both of his parents in the U.S. and a couple lost a daughter,” he said. “Three in the group lost expat friends in Cuenca.”

Some expat vaccine experiences
Jerry Ellis, a six-year Cuenca resident, flew to Miami in May for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “I really don’t have a problem with the Sinovac that they are giving here but I needed a break. I saw the article in CuencaHighLife about the locals going to Miami for a ‘vaccination vacation’ and found a travel agency that set me up. I traveled with three couples, made some great new friends and expanded my Spanish vocabulary a little.”

In all, Ellis spent a week in Miami. “It was a blast and not really all that expensive,” he says. “If you’ve never been to South Beach, I highly recommend it.”

Nancee Wong is 69 years old and still awaiting for her vaccine appointment in Cuenca. “I’m not in a hurry and will wait for their call,” she said. She considered leaving the country for her shots but decided to stay. Meanwhile, she says she is taking special precautions when she goes out, especially to restaurants and enclosed areas.

Jerry Ellis took a “vaccination vacation” with a group of Cuencanos in Miami. He highly recommends South Beach.

Iris and Ken Embry, 73 and 67 respectively, received the first dose of the Sinovac vaccine on May 20 in Cuenca. They know of other expats who returned to the U.S. for shots, including two couples in their condominium complex, but say they decided to be vaccinated locally. They explained that it would be difficult to travel back to California, their home state, and said they were comfortable working through the local program.

Phillip Grant, 70, received the Pfizer vaccines in Cuenca in late April and early May and says he never had any thoughts of going back to Canada. “This is home now and I prefer to live like a Cuencano and follow their rules,” he says. “With the help of an Ecuadorian friend, I had a very good experience. People at the vaccine center were very kind and accommodating and the process ran smoothly.”

Grant says he considered waiting to be vaccinated but later decided to get “at the front of the line.” “I want to do some traveling when the pandemic starts to decline and understand that it will be easier with a vaccination than without one,” he said. “One of the first trips I’m planning it to the Galapagos and I’ve read that they require a vaccine.”

Robert Bradley, who moved to Cuenca since 2016, reports that his vaccine experience was smooth and painless. “My good friend, German Zhina, helped make all the arrangements, and provided the transportation and I could not be more please with how things went.”

Barbara and Douglas Morgan, both 71 and from California, were vaccinated in Cuenca. “We waited a bit since we registered, but it was worth it because the application of the vaccine was quick,” Douglas said.

Sylvan Hardy, a 14-year expat, said his decision to get vaccinated in Florida was mostly a matter of circumstances. “I go back twice a year to see the family and since I had a trip scheduled for April it made sense to get the shots up there. If I had not been able to leave Cuenca, like last year, I would have been fine getting them here.”

Shirley Westmorland, a former registered nurse from Indiana, also took a trip to the U.S. for her vaccinations. “I had some doubts about Sinovac, which is what they were giving here in May, so I decided to go home and visit my sister,” she says. “Since I’ve come back, I’ve learned more and have less objections to Sinovac but I’m glad I went back. I had not been there for three years and was amazed at all the changes.”

Emily and Charlie Boone, in their late 50s, say they have no problem waiting for their vaccines in Cuenca. “Under the new government plan we’ll be able to get our shots next month and we’re okay with waiting,” says Emily. “I’m very impressed with [President Guillermo] Lasso so far and think he’s on the right track. We’ll be extra careful until the vaccinations but we plan to go out to eat and to do things. We’re not folks who want to lock ourselves away and live in a dungeon.”

Source: Some information in this post is from an article in the May 26 El Comercio.