• The Star Staff

National Guard prioritizes gov’t workers as COVID-19 vaccine campaign continues

Puerto Rico athletes who have qualified for Tokyo Olympics are on schedule

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

In order for the island to reach herd immunity against the SARS-CoV-2 virus among the general population before the end of summer, Puerto Rico National Guard (PRNG) Adj. Gen. José Reyes said Monday that the central government is continuing to set priorities in inoculating workers from the public sector.

Reyes said the PRNG is moving forward in its key role in the vaccination rollout as employees from the Treasury and Labor and Human Resources departments were next in line to receive their shots.

The PRNG has already administered vaccine doses to 2,000 Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority workers and 2,000 Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority employees.

“We have programmed for this week to vaccinate Recreation and Sports Department employees, along with the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee,” Reyes said. “All of those athletes that are going to the [2021 Tokyo] Olympics will be getting their first shots this week.”

When the STAR asked how island athletes were responding to the opportunity to receive the coronavirus vaccine after a local news outlet reported that some have expressed reservations about getting inoculated, Reyes said those hesitations have come from a “lack of information.”

“There has been so much speculation since the first day we began the vaccine campaign, as some still believe the vaccine is part of a tracking device where a chip would be implanted inside citizens,” he said while insisting that education on the coronavirus vaccine is still necessary.

“The three available vaccines are great and very effective,” Reyes added. “Both Moderna and Pfizer have reported that the vaccine’s effectiveness remains strong after six months of being administered; however, this does not mean that the vaccines will only last six months, what this means is that the vaccines continue to be studied and evaluated since the clinical trials for the second dose concluded in August 2020.”

Meanwhile, he reminded the STAR that the Janssen vaccine (Johnson & Johnson), which only requires a single dose, proved in its clinical trial to have 85% efficacy against severe COVID-19 symptoms.

The PRNG commander made his statements during a press conference held at Marcelo Trujillo Pannise Coliseum in Humacao, which became a non-traditional coronavirus vaccine provider that the national guard opened yesterday to inoculate residents of the eastern region of the island who are 16 years old and older.

Reyes announced that around 23,000 COVID shots were being distributed across the PRNG’s eight vaccine centers, adding that the number would grow as the U.S. government continues to distribute more doses to Puerto Rico.

“We now have around 600 vaccine providers,” Reyes said as he urged citizens to log on to the Puerto Rico Health Department’s website to schedule an appointment.

Meanwhile, the island is expected to receive a shipment of 49,800 shots from Pfizer, 34,200 from Moderna, and 6,100 from Janssen -- for a total of 136,500 doses -- between today and Thursday that will be distributed to health care providers.

Youngsters receiving COVID vaccine say they’re relieved

As the island Health Department on Monday expanded the coronavirus vaccine campaign to islanders aged 16 years and older, young people lined up to receive their shots.

Isaías Velázquez Maldonado, who is a 22-year-old college student and worker from Naguabo, said he felt relieved as he is aware of being one step closer to being protected against a virus that has taken more than 2,100 lives on the island.

“The dynamic was really nice, everything was organized and the process was really quick -- we didn’t have to wait so much,” said Velázquez Maldonado, who was with his 17-year-old sister Evamarí and his 55-year-old father Luis Fernando.

When asked if he was waiting for this moment to come, he said “it was something I have always wanted as you want to take care of yourself and your family.”

“It’s very pleasing to have this moment,” Velázquez Maldonado added. “I feel much better mentally.”

His sister said she was scared at first because she has a fear of needles.

“It didn’t hurt -- I didn’t feel anything,” she said.

When asked if she knew how important the coronavirus vaccine was in the effort to curb the pandemic, Evamarí replied that she was completely aware since she, like her father, has a heart condition.

“Now all of our family is vaccinated,” the teenager said.