Health official reiterates 2nd COVID vaccine dose is ‘guaranteed’

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

With some islanders unable to receive their second coronavirus vaccine dose and being told by Puerto Rico National Guard (PRNG) officers to return one or two days later amid an apparent delay in vaccine distributions, Puerto Rico Health Department Vaccination Program Director Iris Cardona Gerena recognized Tuesday that vaccination centers must make adjustments in their operations.

“It is unfortunate that this is happening,” she said during an interview with reporter Julio Rivera Saniel on Radio Isla as she reiterated that people who had the first COVID vaccine dose administered “must be guaranteed or have their second dose guaranteed by the vaccination program.”

“Operations have been moving from initially vaccinating only healthcare professionals and vaccinating … emergency responders, then starting to vaccinate this slightly more fragile population, our adults over 65 years of age,” said the vaccination program chief. “And then it’s combined. They’re using the Moderna vaccine; they’re supposed to get the first dose and 28 days later they get the second dose.”

Nonetheless, Cardona Gerena said, for citizens to have “peace of mind,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that “day 28 is the recommendation where it [the second dose] should occur and is supported by scientific studies.”

“Now, there is a so-called grace period, where if the patient, for whatever reason, cannot receive the vaccine on the 28th day, they can be sure that it is equally valid if it is received one, two, three, even four days before the scheduled date,” she said. “And for those who miss, for whatever reason, the 28th day, the CDC stipulates that it should be done as soon as possible after that date.”

However, the epidemiologist pointed out that the information “should not be taken as [meaning] you can get your vaccine administered 30, 35 or 40 days after the first dose,” because that could delay the vaccination campaign further.

“I can understand that patients had written on their vaccination card to wait 28 or 30 days after the first dose, as it is allowed and in line with the guidelines established by the CDC,” Cardona Gerena said. “If we don’t take caution in making this a standard procedure, accounting becomes more difficult, especially when two parallel services are being conducted, which are the first dose for one population, and the second dose for another population.”

As for mitigation procedures, the vaccination program director said the Health Department is developing a call center to inform citizens on the coronavirus vaccination campaign, attend to people who were unable to receive their second COVID inoculation, and to “address the campaign to vaccinate bedridden people as the email program established earlier was facing issues.”

The STAR requested a response from the National Guard on the alleged vaccine distribution delay, but at press time the PRNG spokesperson said the information could not be confirmed until vaccination centers had shut down operations for the day.

Nonetheless, the spokesperson provided the STAR with a PRNG report from Monday which said that since Dec. 14, Puerto Rico has received 544,825 doses, distributed 481,005, and administrated or registered 325,714 in the CDC’s Immunization Information System.

“PRNG ICW [in conjunction with] Department of Health continues mass COVID-19 vaccination for health providers and first responders at Coliseo Pedrín Zorrilla in San Juan, Centro de Bellas Artes in Caguas, Coliseo Rubén Rodríguez in Bayamón, Palacio de Deportes in Mayagüez, Cancha Bajo Techo Salvador Dijols in Ponce and Coliseo Manuel Petaca Iguina in Arecibo,” the report said.

The report added that “in support of the Department of Education and private schools, vaccination centers (8) are operating at San Juan, Bayamón, Arecibo, Ponce, Arroyo, Mayagüez, Loíza, and Comerio.”

“27,412 people have been vaccinated of an estimated population of 52,000,” the report said.

Meanwhile, both the PRNG and the Health Department said mass COVID-19 vaccinations continue at the island’s homes for the elderly. At press time, 1,804 residents and 347 employees, totaling 2,151 people, had been vaccinated against the coronavirus.