• The Star Staff

Inoculations set to start today (finally) after first batch of COVID-19 vaccines arrives

ASES: Vaccines are free, some services not

By The Star Staff

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine that arrived in Puerto Rico on Monday will begin to be administered today in stages starting with health staff at hospitals and emergency personnel.

Despite the fact that the COVID-19 vaccine will have no cost to the population, the Health Insurance Administration (ASES by its Spanish acronym) ruled that health care providers or doctors will have the right to bill for administering the injection. ASES Executive Director Jorge Malva said “providers will have the right to bill for application services, which includes not only inoculation, but also specific information on the preservation of the vaccine, patient orientation and tracking to allow the second dose.”

Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced said the vaccine will be distributed to the 65 hospitals in Puerto Rico, and will be administered Tuesday following what is stipulated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Her remarks were made after Ashford Presbyterian Hospital issued a statement Monday saying officials were going to start inoculation of hospital staff and doctors that same day. Later, the hospital’s manager of digital and social media, Jeffrey Martínez, retracted the statements, saying the vaccinations were going to start today.

The STAR learned that doctors in private practice who also treat COVID-19 patients were unhappy because they will not be among the first to be vaccinated, but Víctor Ramos, president of the Physicians & Surgeons Association, said they will be among the first.

He said 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 first 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 into the summer months.

“The rest of the population is expected to undergo vaccination in three weeks,” Ramos said.

Ramos said the vaccine, which will be administered in all individuals over the age of 16, is safe.

“Children will be vaccinated later, but there is evidence that the disease is mild in most children,” he said.

Regarding the statements made by ASES, Ramos said health care plans will pay for the vaccine and that doctors have to charge for the inoculation because “they have to pay for the nurses and the record keeping.”

“We charge for all other innoculations too,” he said.

The Physicians & Surgeons Association will not only send out doctors to administer the vaccine, but may also use its own facilities to inoculate the population.

ASES decided to establish a fixed rate for the different vaccines and dosages. The administration of the first and second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will cost $16.94 and $28.39, respectively. If the use of Moderna’s vaccine is approved, the cost will be the same.

On Monday the governor held a meeting with Deputy Health Secretary and Incident Chief Commander Iris Cardona, Puerto Rico National Guard Adj. Gen. José J. Reyes, Puerto Rico Hospitals Association Executive Director Jaime Plá, and staff from Walgreens and CVS pharmacies to fine-tune immunization details.

“All of us, both the government and the private sector and non-profit organizations, are working together to be able to distribute and administer the vaccines in order to eradicate this virus,” Vázquez Garced said. “That is everyone’s goal: to end COVID-19.”

“From the beginning the people were told that it is to be an orderly process. At today’s meeting, where all the logistics components were present, it was agreed that, as part of the established plan, the vaccination would begin tomorrow, Tuesday, as also provided by the federal Department of Health [and Human Services],” the governor added. “We want the people to see the vaccination and have it give them confidence. This is a process of education and prevention.”

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