The U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Health received its first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer on Monday, joining the rest of the nation in receipt and distribution of the eagerly awaited pharmaceutical.
In a news release issued Monday evening, the V.I. Department of Health called receipt of the vaccine “a major breakthrough,” saying it “comes amid the current surge of the virus in the territory.”
According to the DOH, 975 doses of the vaccine have arrived on St. Croix and will allow providers to start Phase 1A vaccinations in both the St. Croix and St. Thomas-St. John districts. This phase includes clinical health care staff and residents and staff in long-term care facilities throughout the territory, per the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. As more vaccines are ordered and delivered on a weekly basis, populations in Phases 1B through 1C will begin and will cover first responders, persons with immunocompromised conditions and the 65 and older population. It is expected for the department to roll into subsequent phases on a frequent basis.
The vaccine is designed so that recipients must receive two doses, so the 975 doses received Monday will be enough to vaccinate 487 people.
The Food and Drug Administration signed the Emergency Use Authorization for the vaccine on Friday, and the advisory committee met on Saturday to establish recommendations for use of the Pfizer vaccine. Health care providers across the territory have since been provided with information on handling and administering the Pfizer vaccine and further details about the product.
According to the news release, there are several calls scheduled this week through Clinicians Outreach and Communication Activity, as well as training sessions directly with Pfizer, for the proper handling and administration of the vaccine. These schedules have been provided to all health care providers, even those not providing COVID-19 vaccinations.
The arrival of the vaccines comes days after the department, in partnership with federal and local partners, exercised the plan to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine across the territory using a hub and spoke approach, the news release said.
Pfizer vaccines will be delivered to storage hubs where an ultra-cold storage freezer is stationed and will be redistributed to select clinical health care entities where vaccines will be administered. The Department of Health called the vaccine distribution drill a success, saying it prepared the department and partners for receiving the actual vaccine.
“We are pleased to be a part of the process, and the positive responses from health care providers, clinical staff and the community are encouraging. This is the glimmer of hope that our community has been waiting for – but it is not the end and we must remain vigilant,” Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion said.
The department is prepared to coordinate the distribution of the vaccine and will continue to educate health care providers through training by federal and Pfizer vaccine officials. This will allow the department to finalize the details of vaccination scheduling of targeted populations, confirm data reporting and continue the dissemination of public information.
The department urged the community to continue to adhere to guidelines and best practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks in public, frequent hand-washing and maintaining social distancing.
The COVID-19 vaccine is expected to be available to the general public in early Spring 2021, the department said.