• The Star Staff

Health chief: $5,000 fine for those who get vaccinated out of turn

By The Star Staff

Island Health Secretary-designate Carlos Mellado López told members of the island House of Representatives on Thursday that he signed an administrative order giving priority for the next four weeks to the vaccination of adults over the age of 65 and would impose a $5,000 fine to discourage vaccine providers or people who are not yet in their vaccination phase from getting vaccinated before that phase is reached.

However, he said that at times to avoid a missed dose, the dose is given to people out of phase.

“However, this is the exception, and not the norm,” he said during a committee-of-the-whole process during which lawmakers asked him numerous questions about the way the Health Department has handled the coronavirus pandemic.

Mellado López also revealed, in response to a question from Puerto Rican Independence Party Rep. Denis Márquez, that he ordered an audit into the purchase of COVID-19 tests after the agency hired a firm last year that was unqualified to deliver them, but he is awaiting the results. He also said he will allow the Center for Investigative Reporting to obtain access to certain vaccination ledgers the media outlet requested to determine if the vaccination protocol was followed.

To accomplish the vaccination of the population of Puerto Rico, Mellado López, who has yet to be confirmed by the Senate, said the agency has 400 vaccine providers certified by the federal government. Currently, 239 providers have received and administered vaccinations.

“This is due to the limited number of doses received, which amounts to 41,450 doses of vaccines weekly,” he said. “The allocation of vaccines to each provider must be consistent with their role in each of the established phases.”

As of Wednesday, some 526,225 doses had been received, of which 442,416 had been distributed, the designated Health secretary said.

“It is important to note that we are constantly receiving vaccines and they are being distributed in accordance with the plan described above,” Mellado López said. “Of the doses administered, 289,974 have been recorded. The reason for the difference in this number is that, in some cases, the vaccine registration is manual and there is a delay in data entry into the system.”

The figures show that 219,649 people have been vaccinated with at least the first dose of the vaccine, while 70,325 have been vaccinated with both doses. Vaccination began in Puerto Rico in mid-December.

“Likewise, it is important to remember that both vaccines are authorized by the federal Food and Drug Administration [FDA] and require two doses, which are administered on different dates,” the Health chief added. “As the vaccine supply increases, this number will increase dramatically.”

The vaccination process is being carried out in different centers, such as those set up by the National Guard, 330 Centers, IPAAs, and Walgreens and CVS pharmacies. In the case of pharmacies, they began vaccinating in long-term care centers on Jan. 4, he said. Since then, the agency has reached 19,070 residents living in those centers. Vaccination of that population is expected to be completed in the next three weeks.

Regarding the loss of vaccines, Mellado López emphasized that in Puerto Rico only 200 vaccines were lost, after a confusing incident in a hospital.

“Although it is true that this loss is unacceptable, we are far below the incidents that have occurred in other states in terms of losses,” he said. “To this we add that approximately 6,000 additional doses have been extracted in the vaccine containers, doses that have been administered immediately.”

The Health Department has also handled more than 1 million tests for COVID-19. They are distributed in 1,095 million antigen tests, of which more than 38% have been distributed, mainly in the so-called COViveo events.

“We have also received around 937,000 serological tests, of which more than 51% have been distributed,” Mellado López said.

Regarding molecular tests, which are more efficient, the agency has received some 575,000 tests.

From Oct. 27, 2020 to Jan. 31, 120 COViveo events were held, covering 71 of the island’s 78 municipalities. Mellado López said 111,638 tests were performed in these events, of which 2,613 yielded positive results.

He also spoke about the Municipal System for Case Investigation and Contact Tracing, which is a project that has offered each municipality economic resources, a guide to establish a response to COVID-19 and supervision so that they are integrated into the national response. Currently, 77 municipalities are fully integrated into the system. The objectives of the program consist of the initial investigation of cases, referring the cases to the central monitoring system, monitoring and inspection, and education.

The municipal system that the Health Department has developed has allowed an increase in the personnel available for tracking, reaching the number of 600 people. With this, the agency has managed to investigate 89% of the cases, which allows the weekly publication of information to be more accurate, Mellado López said.

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