• The Star Staff

Gov’t, National Guard distribute first batches of COVID-19 vaccines. More are on the way

By The Star Staff

Puerto Rico residents will not be able to hug each other during the holiday season because it will not be until February or March when the government will be able to start inoculating the general population with the COVID-19 vaccine, Puerto Rico National Guard Adj. Gen. José Reyes said Tuesday.

Vaccinations of hospital staff and doctors began Tuesday. In response to a STAR question, Reyes said no one has gotten sick from the vaccine, which was tried on a nationwide sample of about 44,000 people.

On Thursday, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is slated to decide whether to release to the markets another COVID-19 manufactured by Moderna as part of an emergency permit. Depending on that FDA approval, next week Puerto Rico should receive some 66,000 vaccines from Pfizer and 47,500 from Moderna. Once that happens, the Pfizer vaccine will be distributed to some 206 facilities, among them diagnostic and treatment centers, independent physician associations, “330” health care facilities and the Physicians & Surgeons Association, to inoculate health care professionals who are not working in hospitals, Reyes said.

With the arrival of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, if it becomes a reality, the National Guard will be able to open, in stages, 11 regional vaccination centers, starting with San Juan, Caguas, Ponce and Arecibo.

“There in those centers we will be vaccinating first responders, police, firemen and 911 staff and then essential workers such as Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority workers, Aqueduct and Sewer Authority workers, prison guards and Education Department workers to start getting the staff ready to open schools,” Reyes said.

He added that supermarket workers may also be given priority.

The government will then proceed to vaccinate individuals over the age of 65 who are not in homes for the aging and those with critical conditions as part of the first stage of the vaccination.

“This first stage will take us between four and six weeks to complete and will lead us to February and then we will start with the general population,” Reyes said.

When the vaccination begins with the general population, the vaccination centers will be expanded to pharmacies, Costco, Kmart and Walmart.

“We should be there in March,” the National Guard leader said.

A first batch of 16,575 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived Monday, with another 9,750 doses arriving on Tuesday and 3,900 doses expected to arrive today. Reyes also said he expects 30,225 doses of the vaccine to arrive in Puerto Rico at the end of the week. Seventy-five hospitals received vaccines Tuesday.

For her part, Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced visited the Río Piedras Medical Center and was observed in a video talking to nurses and doctors along with Reyes.

“Truly my intention was to come, to verify that the plan was being carried out, the way the delivery of the vaccines was moving along through the logistics established by the National Guard and by [Deputy Health Secretary] Dr. [Iris] Cardona,” Vázquez told the press. “It has been extraordinary. I thank the doctors, the nurses, who were the first example for all Puerto Ricans [to follow]. And I want you to visualize this moment. This is a historic moment. We are experiencing this after a pandemic that nobody knew about, that the scientific community did not know how to handle. In record time we have had the approval to put it in place and take care of our population, to take care of our citizens, so that Puerto Rico can embrace each other again. That is the importance of this day.”

Regarding the vaccination of the population, Vázquez said “there has to be an order.”

“In the order that was established, that has been followed, there are the doctors, there are the nurses, who have already been vaccinated, several of them,” the governor said. “They are happy, they feel good; so then, little by little we will comply with that plan that has been established so that our population is vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Designated Health Secretary Carlos Mellado, meanwhile, spoke about the start of mass vaccinations in Puerto Rico against COVID-19.

As a physician, Mellado received the Pfizer vaccine at Doctors Center Hospital in Carolina. He was accompanied by the Region 2 director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Dennis González, Carolina Mayor José Carlos Aponte Dalmau, and hospital administrator Edgar Padilla.

“Many emotions; today is the beginning of the end of what is a nightmare that today turned nine months,” Mellado said at a press conference. “I wanted to do this for two things: first of all so that they could see the established order that the vaccinations will have. This is something from the public policy of our government, where the protocols will be strictly followed. And secondly, I believe that citizens must understand the importance of vaccination.”

“As we are able to end the myth of fear of the vaccine,” he added, “it is to that extent that we will be able to get out of this pandemic.”