The Virgin Islands will not be neglected when it comes to receiving a potential vaccine for the COVID-19 virus. So says Territorial Epidemiologist Dr. Esther Ellis, who on Monday said the territory will receive its fair share of doses in line with the U.S. mainland.
“We are on the distribution list for vaccines and we will get the vaccine in the Virgin Islands at the same time other states get it,” Ellis said during a Government House press briefing.
The news comes after biotechnology company Moderna announced that its early vaccine tests were proving 94.5% effective against COVID-19. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer made a similar announcement last week, stating that its vaccine was about 90% effective.
Ellis, who called the results “incredible,” said the V.I. Health Department is “looking into both options,” however, it is unclear when the vaccines will be made available.
“We’ve been told that it could be before the end of the year but it really depends on [when] the vaccine has been FDA-approved,” she said.
Ellis added that the V.I. Health Department is in step with the entire nation in preparation to receive a federal distribution of the vaccine and it will be distributed in a “prioritized manner.”
Of concern is the storage and transport of the Pfizer vaccine in particular, which, according to reports, needs to be stored in ultra-cold freezers that can maintain a temperature of roughly -80 Celsius. Ellis, while not providing much detail, said the territory does have the capacity to do this.
For many, the prospect of a vaccine on the horizon is welcome news as the nation braces for a potentially dire winter season, one in which the number of COVID-19 cases — and deaths — are expected to surge.
Currently, the territory’s COVID-19 positivity rate is between 3% to 4%, higher than October’s rate of 1% but still far lower than August’s 15% rate.
Ellis said this rate may likely rise during the holidays and urged the community to follow a number of guidelines to stay safe, including:
• Hosting gatherings outdoors if possible, or in a well-ventilated space
• Arranging tables and chairs to allow for social distancing
• Having guests wash their hands before serving or eating food
• Considering one person to serve all food so multiple people are not handling serving utensils
• Limiting the number of people going into and out of the kitchen or grill area
• Using single-use condiments or identify one person to serve sharable items, such as salad dressings, food containers and condiments to avoid multiple contact with items
A complete list of guidelines can be found at www.covid19usvi.com.
Government House spokesman Richard Motta Jr. said the holiday season and the prospect of increased travel to and from the mainland make these guidelines all the more important.
“If you must gather for the holidays, do so responsibly and within the guidelines issued by the Department of Health. Limit your family gatherings to persons within your immediate household or to no more than 10 persons,” he said.
To report a suspected case of COVID-19, call 340-712-6299 or 340-776-1519. If you have a medical emergency, call 911.
For more information, visit covid19usvi.com. For COVID-19 updates, text COVID19USVI to 888777.