Health Prepping to Vaccinate 50K Residents by July 1

Health Department Medical Director Dr. Tai Hunte-Caesar addresses the weekly online news update, saying that the territory is preparing to vaccinate 50,000 residents by July 1. (Screen capture)

With Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose COVID-19 vaccine now up for review by the Food and Drug Administration, the territory should soon be able to offer vaccine access to all eligible residents and is preparing to vaccinate 50,000 by July 1, according to Health Department officials.

Speaking at Monday’s weekly press briefing, Health Department Medical Director Dr. Tai Hunte-Caesar said so far, 12,094 vaccines have been administered within the territory, with 2,967 second doses. Health is still vaccinating residents in groups 1A and 1B, and since the launch of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency’s vaccine appointment hotline last week, there have been 600 scheduling requests, with 540 of those phoned into 340-777-8277 (340-777-VACS) and 60 made through VITEMA’s website.

According to Gov. Albert Bryan Jr., about 40 percent of the requests have come from residents 65 years of age and older. A complete list of providers administering the vaccine can be found online at the Department of Health website.

With more accessibility, the department is trying to discourage “vaccine tourism” – that is visitors coming into the territory just to receive the shot – through local providers, but Gov. Bryan said that he also doesn’t want to put up barriers for those who want it. Both Bryan and Hunte-Caesar said the territory is committed to making sure that 100 percent of residents are offered the opportunity first and are monitoring the situation daily.

With no residency requirement to receive the vaccine, it can be hard to stop visitors from coming in, but it also works to the advantage of certain groups, such as undocumented workers who can get the vaccine and cut down on the percentage of the population infected with or exposed to the virus, Bryan said. The governor added that there is a “very small percentage of people who have come here to get the shot,” including two recently that were over the age of 65 and had made appointments with a provider.

In the meantime, Health is also ramping up its COVID-19 testing sites to keep the number of new cases down as the territory hit a low 2.3 percent weekly positivity rate. As of Monday afternoon, there have been 43,160 individuals tested for the virus and of that number, 40,590 have tested negative and 2,466 positive, with the department tracking 71 active cases. Another 104 tests are pending.

Among the positive are five hospitalized patients, four at Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas and another at the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital on St. Croix, three cases of which Hunte-Caesar said are travel related. While there have not currently been any cases of mutated strains, such as those seen in the United Kingdom or South Africa, Hunte-Caesar said samples have been collected by Health for analysis by the Centers for Disease Control. She encouraged residents to take advantage of the opportunity to get the vaccine to help achieve “herd immunity,” and also maintaining public health guidelines such as social distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing.

This week, pop-up testing sites are scheduled to be held at:
– St. Thomas Home Depot on Tuesday, Feb. 9, from 1-3 p.m.;
– Canegata Recreation Center on St. Croix on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 16 and 23 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.;
– The V.I. Port Authority Gravel Yard on St. John on Wednesday, Feb. 10, from 1:30-4:30 p.m.;
– The Fort Christian parking lot on St. Thomas on Thursday, Feb. 11, from 1-3 p.m.; and
– Canegata Recreation Center on St. Croix on Thursday, Feb. 11, 18 and 25 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Editor’s note: This story has been edited since it was first posted, to add the link to the Department of Health website. The Source regrets the onconvenience.