Emotions high as historic COVID vaccinations begin


It was a historic day on Guam as the first of the COVID-19 vaccines were administered at Okkodo High School.

And the thought of having our lives back to somewhat normal definitely had emotions high as a pivotal moment in the island’s fight against the so-called “invisible enemy” kicked off Thursday morning at Okkodo high school.

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Zennia Pecina, DPHSS Nursing Resource Command for COVID-19, said: “We’ve worked so hard. This pandemic it just…it affected all our lives. I’m excited. These are tears of happiness! You know people talk about getting back to a state of normalcy…I don’t want a state of normal. I want to be able to hug my family without thinking about it.”

Pecina was one of the first three to get their vaccines on Guam along with Art San Agustin, the director of Public Health, and Dr. Bob Leon Guerrero, the Public Health Immunization Advisor.

Governor Lou Leon Guerrero, Lt. Governor Josh Tenorio, and many leading the COVID-efforts on Guam packed into Okkodo High for the event.

Teams converted the school’s cafeteria into a vaccination hub and the gym next door for the newly inoculated to go and be monitored for 15-20 minutes after getting their shot.

After his vaccine and monitoring period, Dr. Leon Guerrero says he felt just fine.

“They say that (for side effects) side pain is 88% plus, headaches, body aches, joint pain…so, I’m expecting it, but whether I get it or not (I don’t know) and I’m willing to take that risk for the benefit of the shot. I won’t lie to you, I was scared. I know it’s good and I know I wanted to do it…but you know, I was scared,” Dr. Leon Guerrero said.

He added that everyone given the vaccine also goes home with a card listing symptoms to watch for, along with a number to call should things take a turn for the worse.

Thursday’s event kicked off the inoculation rollout for PHASE 1 high-priority people on Guam, including frontline nurses, doctors, and emergency personnel.

Public Health says around 500 vaccines were prepped to be administered at Okkodo; there were other shots given to GMH and GRMC to administer to their staff as well.

Annette Aguon, Bureau of Communicable Disease Control Administrator, said: “We ask for everyone’s patience. Eventually, as we get more vaccines, we will bring it out to other high-risk groups and the general population.”

The Pfizer vaccine just arrived on island Tuesday on a United Flight. This first shipment was 3,900 doses and another package is expected soon, which will be another 3900 shots, enough to cover all of the second doses.

Public Health has set up a digital immunization registry that’s centralized, which will include every patient’s information, along with the date and time they got the first shot and which of the vaccines they received.

That way, Public Health can follow up and ensure everyone gets the second dose.

“With the first dose, it’s about 50% effective and then with the second dose, it jumps up above 90%. And that’s beautiful…the only one vaccine that does above 90% is the Measles, Mumps, Rubella shot…everything else is less than that,” Dr. Leon Guerrero said.

While this may be a glimmer of hope for a “normal” future, the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and everyone leading the efforts have repeatedly emphasized that this is just the first step in a long road ahead to get enough people on Guam vaccinated to have any sort of herd immunity.

Don’t go changing your ways now. They say wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing will be our reality well into the new year.

And while of course, the vaccine is still voluntary, the message from Guam’s healthcare community is clear.

“Get the vaccine! If you want to hug your family, if you want to be at your loved one’s bedside when they pass… get the vaccine,” Dr. Leon Guerrero exhorted.

More vaccination clinics are expected over the next few days as Public Health rolls out the 3900 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Public Health says it will be holding a second clinic tomorrow, Friday, from 9 am to 3 pm and then again Saturday for frontline, high priority healthcare workers.

The Vaccine Committee has yet to recommend how the general public will be prioritized when we get enough vaccines on island.