• The Star Staff

Have doubts about COVID-19 vaccine and the gov’t protocol? Here is what you need to know

By The Star Staff

The protocol for the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech, slated to arrive in Puerto Rico after approval for its use, would require patients over the age of 16 to receive two doses within three weeks apart to achieve a high efficacy of more than 90 percent.

“Protection [provided by the] vaccine is not immediate; the vaccine is a two-dose series and it will take one to two weeks following the second dose to be considered fully vaccinated,” according to a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) document on the vaccine.

The vaccine will be offered to 16- and 17-year-olds, and pregnant and lactating women as well as HIV patients despite no information about the safety for those groups, the CDC document says. The inoculation itself poses little risk to pregnant and lactating women because it isn’t a live vaccine, degrades quickly in the body, and doesn’t enter the nucleus of the cell, the CDC said.

The information means that elementary and middle school children cannot be vaccinated and will still need to follow measures to avoid infection.

“The licensed vaccine requires the administration of two doses. Once administered, you must wait 21 days to obtain the second dose to achieve immunity,” Deputy Health Secretary Iris Cardona reiterated. “It is important to note that the arrival of the vaccine does not mean that we can lower our guard. Protective measures against COVID-19 must continue; therefore, the use of a mask, physical distancing and hand washing continue to be vital tools to protect against COVID-19.”

Given the currently limited information on how well the vaccine works in the general population or how much it may reduce disease or how long the protection lasts, the CDC document says vaccinated people should still continue to follow all current guidance to protect themselves and others, including wearing a mask, staying at least six feet away from others, avoiding crowds, washing hands often and going into quarantine after exposure to someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The vaccine must be administered intramuscularly, while administration of the second dose within a four-day grace period or between 17 and 21 days after the first dose, is still considered valid. If the second dose is administered 21 days after the first dose, then no doses need to be repeated, the document says.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is not interchangeable with other COVID-19 vaccine products. Therefore, people using the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine should complete the doses with the same product. However, if two doses of different mRNA COVID-19 vaccine products are inadvertently administered, no additional doses of either vaccine are recommended.

According to the CDC, the vaccination should be offered to people regardless of whether they have had the virus before. But if a person currently has COVID-19, the CDC says the vaccination should be done after the person’s recovery from the illness.

There is currently no data on the safety or efficacy of COVID-19 vaccination in people who have received treatment with antibodies or convalescent plasma, but those patients should wait 90 days to be vaccinated in order to avoid interference with the treatment, the CDC says.

Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced spoke on Saturday about the government’s plan for mass vaccination against COVID-19, after the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave her emergency authorization to distribute the vaccine produced by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

Puerto Rico National Guard Adt. Gen. José Reyes affirmed that the Puerto Rico National Guard is ready to begin the distribution of vaccines against COVID-19.

“Since it became known about the viability of the vaccine and the federal government’s efforts to acquire it, the Puerto Rico National Guard began a logistics plan for its expedited distribution,” Reyes said. “Now that the FDA has authorized it, we will begin the distribution of some 205,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines that are expected to arrive in the next few days.”

The plan is to administer the vaccine in phases. In the first phase, the government will first vaccinate health professionals, hospital workers and emergency response workers, as well as people who work and live in shelters, nursing homes, and long-term care centers.

Stage B of the first phase of the vaccination will cover police officers, first responders, Department of Education employees, and essential workers. Stage C of the first phase will cover individuals with chronic diseases such as diabetics, people with respiratory problems or heart conditions, kidney patients, and those whose immune systems are delicate.

The second phase of the vaccination will cover people over 16 years of age and without health problems or pre-existing conditions. According to the established plan, this phase, which includes the majority of the population, would extend until the summer months.

Regarding the availability of special refrigerators to store the vaccine, Reyes said the government has five of such refrigerators that can store the Pfizer vaccines at temperatures as cold as -80 degrees Celsius. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine requires a storage temperature of -70 degrees Celsius. Each refrigerator can store up to 300,000 vaccines.

Reyes said 65 hospitals have already submitted the information required to make the initial delivery and proceed with the vaccination of all health professionals.

“The next deliveries would be to the IPA-CDTs [independent physicians associations-municipal diagnostic and treatment centers], the 330 [community health] Centers and other private medical organizations,” Reyes said. “We are also simultaneously supporting Walgreens and CVS pharmacies under a national contract for what are aegis and homes for the elderly.”

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