• The Star Staff

Health Dept.: At least 70% of population must get COVID-19 vaccine to control pandemic

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

In order to control the COVID-19 pandemic in Puerto Rico, Deputy Health Secretary Iris Cardona Gerena said Wednesday, at least 70 percent of the population must cooperate and get the vaccine.

During a Zoom conference where the Puerto Rico Vaccine Coalition (VOCES by its Spanish acronym) collaborated to help the island agency “bring the message to what we call the challenge of the century” to members of the press, Cardona Gerena said the chances of reaching the aforementioned vaccination threshold seems possible as data from an ongoing investigation show great expectations for the vaccine that has yet to receive United States Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization.

“Unlike other vaccines, more than half of the people in Puerto Rico have said they expect to receive the vaccine and are willing to do so,” Cardona Gerena said. “We conducted surveys, and not opinion polls, that have been done through a research study that is … looking at the prevalence of [coronavirus] infection in different communities throughout Puerto Rico, where we included general questions about the disease, about how much they know about it, and about the vaccine.”

She added that by having more than 50 percent of the population interested in inoculation, it will be possible to reach the suggested percentage to develop immunity.

However, education is key to keeping citizens interested, Cardona Gerena noted.

For that reason, the epidemiologist said, education campaigns for vaccination are already running through different initiatives, such as radio and television commercials for the elder community and social media content for the youth.

As for misconceptions, such as the vaccine compromising the patient’s genetic material, Cardona Gerena insisted that the shot neither integrates into genetic material nor contains a live-attenuated particle.

“A messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccine has a very small portion of a virus’ genetic material, in this case, the SARS-CoV2 virus, that codifies and gives instructions to produce a protein known as spike, which is the one that the coronavirus contains and allows the virus to enter the human body through the respiratory epithelium,” she said. “The messenger, as I call it, never gets introduced into our cells, it doesn’t get integrated into our genetic material, and it won’t provide more information other than producing spike, that once our immune system recognizes it, our body prepares for a defense reaction, in this case, creating antibodies and leading to what we call cellular immunization.”

She also responded that clinical studies on both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which are the ones expected to be authorized, have proven a “robust immunization response.”

As for the distribution of the vaccine, Cardona Gerena said that under the plan designed by the Health Department and the Puerto Rico National Guard, “an ethical framework was set as a priority in order to maximize benefits, promote a fair environment that doesn’t allow inequalities, and promote transparency.”

VOCES spokesperson Antonia Novello, the former U.S. surgeon general, urged citizens to get vaccinated once the vaccine becomes widely available “if you want to hug again, if you want to roam free.”

Regarding the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are two doses each, Novello noted that the Pfizer shots take 21 days, while the Moderna shots take 28 days to fulfill immunization.

“It’s crucial that everyone gets the second dose,” she urged. “Immunization begins seven days after getting the second dose.”

Meanwhile, Novello urged both members of the press and citizens to be well informed about the COVID vaccines as “misinformation runs quicker than the truth in the age of the internet.”

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