Getting a COVID-19 vaccination doesn’t mean you can ditch the face mask or get out of travel restrictions.
So says Dr. Tai Hunte-Caesar, an infectious disease specialist with the V.I. Health Department, who recently joined other health officials for a virtual town hall meeting on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
While more than 3,000 doses have already been administered in the territory, the vaccines are not a “cure,” but rather a means to arm the body against the virus, according to Hunte-Caesar. Indeed, those who are vaccinated can still be infected and asymptomatic and therefore still contagious.
“The vaccine is not a ‘get out of mitigation jail card,’” Hunte-Caesar said. “The vaccine is a countermeasure that you have to do simultaneously with all the other mitigation strategies.”
That means face masks, social distancing and adherence to travel restrictions must continue even after a vaccination.
Hunte-Caesar added that community transmission will only go down when vaccinations become more widespread on a global scale.
Currently, a total of 12.2 million doses of the vaccine have been administered nationally, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The only thing that’s going to change the way we behave with the social distancing and the masks and other mitigation effort is when the global case burden comes down … with herd immunity,” she said.
That goal may be jeopardized by certain myths about the vaccines and fears about potential side effects.
Health officials said the vaccines are not comprised of the “live virus,” but are rather composed of dead or inactive particles of the virus which trigger the body to produce antibodies. These particles are contained in a polysaccharide solution that is consistent with ingredients already in excess in the body.
“For the overwhelming majority of patients and people in the community, vaccines are safe and can prolong life, prevent death and improve the quality of life,” Hunte-Caesar said.
While some may experience minor inflammatory side effects, like soreness, redness or body aches, the vast majority of people will not experience anything, according to Hunte-Caesar.
Of the roughly 3,369 doses administered in the territory so far, no one has experienced a severe allergic reaction.
Currently, the vaccine rollout plan is in “Phase 1B,” which opens vaccinations to senior citizens and individuals who regularly engage with the public, like first responders, teachers and grocery workers.
This group joins those in “Phase 1A,” which included clinical health care staff, residents and staff in long-term care facilities, as well as persons in need of special care and the elderly.
VITEMA Director Daryl Jaschen said his agency is working with both government agencies and providers to ensure doses are available for those in Phase 1A and 1B groups. He added that VITEMA will be setting up hotlines this week for the St. Thomas-St. John district and the St. Croix district for seniors to more easily set up appointment.
Health Department Immunization Director Monife Stout said there is no “out of pocket expense” to get a vaccine, however, there may be an administrative fee of $16 to $30 for each dose.
“If you have insurance, your insurance may be charged for that. But if you are uninsured or underinsured, you can contact Community Health on St. Thomas or St. Croix or the East End Medical Center or the Frederiksted Health Center and they will use a sliding pay scale,” Stout said.
Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion cautions that individuals should not switch between vaccines for each dose.
— Contact A.J. Rao at 340-714-9104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.