Island Health Dept. and National Guard initiate COVID vaccinations in Vieques
Coronavirus testing campaign begins to detect positive cases in time for antibody treatment
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
As part of an effort to begin tackling the COVID-19 pandemic in Puerto Rico’s municipalities due to the lack of hospitals, the island Health Department, in collaboration with the Puerto Rico National Guard (PRNG), launched a coronavirus vaccination campaign on Wednesday for all adult residents of the offshore island municipality of Vieques.
In addition, the public health agency began mass testing for positive cases of coronavirus through the COVIVEO effort to control infections in the municipality after an outbreak was reported in December.
Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López said the purpose of conducting mass testing was to detect COVID cases in time for treatment.
“We will be evaluating the cases with symptoms, and those most at risk will be offered monoclonal [antibody] treatment,” Mellado López said. “This treatment is very effective and is being used very little on the island. We want, as much as possible, to reduce hospitalizations and, above all, to prevent our people from dying.”
Both the Health chief and National Guard Adj. Gen. José Reyes traveled to the island municipality with their teams to participate in the joint campaign. The testing took place between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the COREFI Center in Vieques, while vaccinations were given at the community school.
Both programs were free of charge.
As for the vaccination efforts, Reyes said the campaign that began in Vieques would include all stages from Phase 1, from A to C, which involves inoculating medical personnel, long-term care center residents and workers, people who are 65 years and older, first responders, and essential workers from the food industry.
“We estimate vaccinating 3,500 [people]; we have currently administered vaccines to 1,600, as the Vieques mayor [José “Junito” Curcino] announced,” Reyes said. “We expect to finish next Friday; however, we will not let up until we finish all of that first phase.”
The PRNG adjutant general added that the same strategy will be used to conduct vaccine campaigns in the island’s mountain towns as they, like Vieques, are smaller communities.
“The National Guard vaccination centers are in large cities for reasons of access, and we were impacting health professionals first, and now we are impacting first responders, but this has helped us test what we can replicate in many mountain towns, and thus be more effective in bringing that vaccine to all of Puerto Rico,” Reyes said.
When asked by a member of the press about the vaccination campaign in Vieques’ sister island town of Culebra, Reyes said that with the help of Mayor Edilberto “Junito” Romero, around 400 islanders have been vaccinated, including bedridden people.
Mass COVID testing continues today
Mellado López, meanwhile, announced that mass COVID-19 testing will be conducted throughout Puerto Rico, in response to Gov. Pedro Pierluisi’s call and his first executive order, declared on Jan. 2, to address the pandemic.
Antigen tests will be used in the testing campaign to detect the coronavirus.
Antigen tests can be conducted on any person older than 2 years. The results are ready in 15 minutes and are sent by email or text message to the patient.
Positive cases are seen by an epidemiologist and followed up on by the Health Department’s surveillance system.
Mellado López’s recommendation for those who test positive is to isolate themselves. To the extent possible, they should remain in a separate room from the family, use a separate bathroom, and disinfect surfaces constantly.
Meanwhile, health personnel will conduct mass testing today at Luis “Wito” Santiago Convention Center in Coamo, on Saturday at Antonio Barceló Coliseum in Toa Baja, and next Tuesday at Ovidio de Jesús Stadium in Río Grande.
All events will take place between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
At press time, it was reported that 223 tests were completed with 0 positive cases on Wednesday afternoon.