Experts weigh in on COVID-19 vaccine doubts

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

With the Puerto Rico Health Department and other local health authorities establishing initiatives to inoculate islanders against the SARS-CoV-2 virus amid an uptick in cases and hospitalizations, many doubts have arisen after reports of patients who had been vaccinated testing positive for COVID-19.

In an interview with the STAR on Sunday, Dr. Víctor Ramos Otero, president of the Puerto Rico Physicians & Surgeons Association and a member of the Puerto Rico Health Coalition, said the coronavirus vaccine “does not protect from infection, it protects you from severe symptoms, hospitalizations, and death.”

Therefore, he urged citizens to continue practicing protection and safety measures against the virus until the island reaches herd immunity, or “when 70% or 80% of islanders get fully vaccinated.”

“Those [vaccinated individuals] who have been hospitalized, which are not many, their health has been compromised enough to be hospitalized, but have not fallen ill enough to get plugged into a ventilator or to pass away; up to now, that has not happened,” Ramos Otero said. “Their progression has been smoother, better than those who have not been vaccinated.”

“These cases are the exception,” he added. “It’s not that a bunch of people who were vaccinated arrived at a hospital.”

Meanwhile, the Health Department vaccine program director, Dr. Iris Cardona, told the STAR that the coronavirus vaccine, like other vaccines, “is not 100% effective in every person.”

Cardona continued by explaining that the COVID-19 shots were proven to have an 85-95% efficacy in clinical trials, meaning that “around 90 to 95 [out of 100] people will be capable of developing protection against the virus, but from five to 10 people will be left behind as the vaccine might not work on them.”

Moreover, the vaccine program chief told the newspaper that those who end up developing defenses against the coronavirus due to immunization will work as shields as they “will not allow the virus to spread to those who are not immune.”

Therefore, like Ramos Otero, she urged islanders to have “discipline” and cooperate in following safety measures, such as physical distancing, hand washing, and the frequent use of face masks, to protect others who remain ineligible for vaccination or have further health complications.

“I want to tell all Puerto Ricans that if you get vaccinated today, it doesn’t guarantee you protection against the virus,” Cardona said. “Please, continue practicing your safety measures; no matter if you have had both vaccine doses today, it does not entitle you to go to parties or do activities where there are many people without adjusting protection measures because we have not finished the [herd immunity] process.”

Meanwhile, Cardona said the Health Department is currently conducting oversight on hospitalized patients who have been fully vaccinated for in-depth analysis on the inoculation’s effectiveness.

When asked by the STAR how long a person who had COVID-19 must wait to receive the vaccine, Ramos Otero said immunologists have recommended waiting at least 90 days after infection, although he said an official recommendation from higher health organizations has yet to be made.

As for people who had COVID-19 after receiving a first vaccine dose, he said “they should get the second shot once they have the opportunity to do so.”