• The Star Staff

Health Dept. greenlights islanders 16 and older for COVID-19 vaccination


By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star


Starting today, Puerto Rico residents who are 16 years old and older will be able to sign up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as the island Health Department has expanded into Phase 2 of the coronavirus inoculation campaign.


In an interview with the STAR, the agency’s vaccine program director, Dr. Iris Cardona, said eligible citizens can log on to protegetevacunate.com to find an appointment without further restrictions.


People who are 16 years of age and older will be able to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, while those 18 years of age and older are eligible for either the Moderna vaccine or the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) single shot.


“Now, this doesn’t mean that all of the population that is 16 and older will get vaccinated tomorrow [today],” Cardona said, noting that, as of now, 100,000 to 120,000 shots can be administered per week.


“We can’t vaccinate a million people in one, three, or five days,” she added. “We had an expectation to administer up to 150,000 shots; however, events like the mix-up that happened at Janssen’s Baltimore plant, where some 15 million vaccine doses became unusable [disrupt expectations]; therefore, we don’t expect to receive Janssen vaccines in large numbers for the next three weeks.”


Moreover, the vaccine program chief emphasized to the STAR that citizens must remain calm as the demand for the vaccine is high and many providers are currently fully booked.


“What matters now is that people must understand that there are no more restrictions, that [vaccination] activities will continue happening, that drugstores and pharmacies will be available at over 500 locations around Puerto Rico, and that we will announce, prudently, large-scale vaccine campaigns to provide access to this service,” Cardona told the newspaper.


When the STAR asked about the Health Department’s goal amid the expansion, Cardona said the agency expected to inoculate a bit more than two million citizens in at least three months if there are no sudden challenges ahead.


However, she said, that number could grow if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration greenlights an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine in children 12 to 15 years old.


“The process of [conducting] these vaccination campaigns is not immediate, it is a medium-term process,” Cardona said. “This is difficult. These are vaccines that arrive frozen, that we have to guarantee their viability, not interrupt the cold chain and administer them correctly.”


“In addition to that, the largest amount of vaccines we have comes in two doses, and we have to comply with that,” she added.


“While this is happening, while we achieve the goal of vaccinating all of Puerto Rico, people have to maintain, everyone, vaccinated and unvaccinated, the SARS-Cov-2 protection and prevention measures, already known and talked about on countless occasions over the past year -- distance, hygiene and the particular and fundamental use of the face mask at all times,” she said as she urged citizens to avoid crowding and spending time in closed spaces to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.


When the STAR asked if the current uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations on the island would significantly hamper the process of reaching herd immunity, Cardona said that “with God’s help, nothing will stop us from continuing to vaccinate people.”


“We will not stop the process as doses allocated to Puerto Rico continue to arrive,” she said. “We have many people and professionals committed to this.”