• The San Juan Daily Star

Another EO mandates booster shots for health, education employees

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi

By The Star Staff

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia anticipated on Wednesday that he would issue another executive order, this time on COVID-19 vaccine booster doses across a broad spectrum of island social and economic sectors.

“In particular, today I am going to be issuing an executive order that deals with the issue of boosters,” Pierluisi said in response to questions from the press. “And I will continue.”

Of the latest executive order, which had not yet been issued as of press time on Wednesday, the governor said that the requirement for the booster will be done in stages, as was done when the doses of vaccine were required to work in person. Pierluisi insisted that his determinations will be based on the number of hospitalizations.

“The people can have no doubt that we are going to do everything we have to do to defend their health,” he said.

Given the continuous surveillance to control the increase in infections by the omicron variant, the governor signed the new Executive Order 2021-082, by means of which he established as mandatory the booster vaccination against COVID-19 for personnel working in the health and education sectors. By Jan. 15, people over 18 years of age who are already vaccinated against COVID-19 and who work in those sectors must have their booster doses administered.

The mandate applies to people who work in health sector facilities -- regardless of their functions -- as well as to teaching staff, non-teaching staff and contractors of schools, educational centers and universities, whether public or private.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anyone who has the full dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccination can have the booster administered at least six months after completing their primary COVID-19 vaccination schedule. In the case of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, people will be able to take the booster dose at least two months after completing their main vaccination schedule.

“Due to the nature of their work and because they were the ones who first had access to vaccines, I have made the decision to start with these two sectors,” the governor said. “In the stage of infections that we currently face, it is imperative to strengthen our health system to allow the continuity of these services and that its personnel are available to attend to any emergency. In the meantime, it is important to protect the teaching and non-teaching staff of the educational system to guarantee that our students can continue to receive the face-to-face education that they have so much needed.”

Recently, the CDC reported that the omicron variant is predominant in the United States. The reported figures indicate that 73% of new infections were of this variant, which represents an increase of almost sixfold in the proportion of omicron infections in a single week. Therefore, the CDC has indicated that the recent appearance of the omicron variant further highlights the importance of vaccination, booster doses, and the prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19.

Although scientific evidence shows that the most effective measure to control COVID-19 is vaccination, the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have stated that, although the COVID-19 vaccines are still effective to avoid getting seriously ill, recent data suggest that it is losing effectiveness over time, in order to prevent infections or symptomatic cases, so the booster is essential to counteract the virus.

Pierluisi stressed the importance of the rest of the population being vaccinated with the booster dose, particularly during the holiday season, when there are meetings with family and friends.

“We continue to encourage people to trust the work and research of our health community and to administer the booster dose against COVID-19, particularly the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions,” the governor said. “Today, all adults over 18 years of age qualify for this dose after the required waiting period; even 16- and 17-year-olds who took the full dose of Pfizer can also take the booster.”

Official CDC statistics show the effectiveness of the booster dose. The data indicate that for every 100,000 inhabitants, 450.90 unvaccinated people, 133.83 vaccinated people and 48.02 vaccinated people with the booster doses are infected. In turn, statistics show that unvaccinated people are 10 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than people vaccinated with the booster dose, and 20 times more at risk of dying.

Thus, people who were fully vaccinated and had an additional or booster dose had lower case rates compared to those who did not receive an additional or booster dose. Additionally, both groups had a much lower risk of testing positive for COVID-19 and a lower risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to people who were not vaccinated.

Executive Order 2021-082 is effective as of next Monday, Dec. 27, and joins Executive Order (OE) 2021-080 signed by the governor -- and effective as of Wednesday -- in order to require the complete vaccination schedule against COVID-19 to attend mass events, as well as a negative test performed 48 hours or less before attending the event.

In order to streamline the process for people who attend congregate events to show proof they have the three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, Enrique Völckers Nin, the island government’s chief executive officer for innovation and information, said this week that the Digital CESCO application was updated in the ‘VACU-ID’ section.

Users will see a plus sign (+) in a green circle on the VACU-ID shield, an additional sign will read as follows: COVID-19 Reinforced.

“Given the recent increase in COVID-19 infections and complying with the provisions of Governor Pedro Pierluisi in the most recent executive orders, we are working on an update so that in the VACU-ID it is visible that people have the third dose or the reinforcement of the vaccine,” said Völckers Nin, who is also director of the Office of Innovation and Technology Services (PRITS).

He said the VACU-ID “was worked in such a way that it can be quickly adapted to the needs of the pandemic.”

“This helps us add functionality expeditiously,” Völckers Nin said. “We will continue to update and improve the VACU-ID and CESCO Digital according to the citizens’ needs thanks to the interoperability created between the Department of Health, the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTOP), and PRITS.”

It was reported that it is necessary to update the CESCO Digital application on mobile phones. If the data is in the Electronic Vaccination System (known as PREIS by its Spanish initials), no further action will be required.

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