More Virgin Islanders are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 booster shot, but V.I. Health officials are still encouraging individuals to consider getting their first shot.
At a Government House press briefing, Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion announced that everyone 18 and older are eligible for a booster shot under new guidance from the CDC’s Immunization Practices Advisory Committee.
“Specifically, healthy people who were not previously recommended for a booster shot may now receive one if they received a primary mRNA, such as Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna, vaccine series,” Encarnacion said.
Encarnacion noted that booster shots are also recommended for everyone 18 and older who received a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at least two months ago, and all adults 50 and older.
“Puerto Rico has one of the highest vaccination rates per jurisdiction, but the U.S. Virgin Islands still has one of the lowest vaccination rates,” Encarnacion said. “We need to increase community immunity and come out of the pandemic.”
According to the Health Department, 50,170 Virgin Islanders are fully vaccinated, or about 58% of the territory’s population.
The CDC reports Puerto Rico has a 74.4% vaccination rate.
When asked by The Daily News why there was a difference in vaccination rates between the two territories, the commissioner responded, “When we ask, individuals indicate that it’s just because we don’t want to at this point in time.”
“It’s not because they are waiting for full approval, because full approval has already been given,” she said of the vaccine.
Encarnacion also noted that Puerto Rico has stringent COVID-19 vaccine requirements, but she and Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. agreed that they prefer individuals to decide for themselves to take the vaccine.
Encarnacion reported 94 active COVID-19 cases in the territory — 80 on St. Croix, 12 on St. Thomas, and two on St. John.
The territory’s seven-day-positivity rate, a measure of the number of people who are tested for COVID and are positive, increased to 2.33% from 1.75% last week.
Although COVID cases have continued to stay low, Encarnacion pointed out that other areas on the U.S. mainland are experiencing COVID-19 surges, which could potentially affect the territory.
“My ask of you this season is to discuss with your loved ones the manner in which you celebrate. It is important to limit gatherings to small groups,” Encarnacion said. “Wear a mask over your nose and mouth. Wash your hands frequently, and get vaccinated to protect your family.”
The Health Department and Community Vaccination Centers will be closed Thursday in observance of Thanksgiving. They will also be closed on Friday as Bryan granted administrative leave for all non-essential government employees.
“Take a little time this week, or on Thanksgiving, to perform an act of kindness, extend a helping hand to someone in need,” Bryan said. “Call a family member or friend whose Thanksgiving this year may not be the same as it was before the pandemic started.”
The governor said he would be spending his Thanksgiving volunteering with Catholic Charities on St. Croix for its annual Thanksgiving luncheon.
“I’m seasoning and actually cooking my first turkey. Yes, it’s going to be good,” Bryan said.
The organization is still looking for food donations, and dishes can be dropped off starting at 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day at the St. Mary’s Catholic School in Christiansted. For information call Andre McBean at 340-643-0257.
November is Diabetes Awareness month, and Gov. Bryan said the issue hits close to home, as his family has been dealing with it since his daughter Aliyah was 12.
Bryan also announced at the press briefing that he will be meeting with EPA Deputy Director Janet McCabe today to discuss the restart of the Limetree Bay Refinery, following St. Croix Energy’s $29 million auction bid for the refinery.