Up to 7800 Pfizer vaccines could be making their way to Guam by the end of the month as Public Health gears up for a massive inoculation campaign.
Since the vaccines are given in two doses, 7800 will mean 3900 people actually getting vaccinated.
Of that number, Public Health anticipates around 1600 will be healthcare workers, about 70% of the medical population. But it’s not mandatory for them.
Nonetheless, they are the priority for the inoculation.
Dr. Felix Cabrera, of the Governor’s Physicians Advisory Group, said: “And then number two priority are elders living in communal, group homes. So here on Guam, what we’re talking about is St. Dominic’s. There are approximately 20 or so persons who live there so they would be candidates and obviously the staff that work there would be included in the healthcare part.”
Cabrera says going beyond that, they’ll be reaching out to first responders like GPD and GFD. And after that, they’re working on how to proceed with the remaining doses.
He says they’re evaluating age factors as well as other health vulnerabilities.
The fact that it’s a 2-part vaccine is part of the complication for Public Health. The Pfizer product needs to be administered again after 21 days, while the Moderna is after 28 days.
“Public Health is using the CDC system. It’s an electronic tracking system and they’ll be using that specifically to do the tracking here. On top of that, Guam has its own system, the immunization info system … the GU Web IZ. The bottom line is all these systems are in place to help ensure compliance,” Cabrera said.
But the issue isn’t just logistics for the second dose.
“There are going to be a number of people who get the first dose and then don’t feel well right after that. They may feel a little bit crummy, a little tired…maybe even a low-grade fever. And then they’ll say oh no, the vaccine made me sick. Well, that’s not true. I wouldn’t even call it a reaction…it’s the response, the immune response. That means the body is actually trying to learn how to fight COVID,” the doctor said.
Cabrera says many people will feel fine and perhaps just have a sore spot on their arm from the injection and unless there’s a major reaction to the vaccine, there’s no reason to be concerned.
He also says people are really blowing the ultra-cold freezer needs for the Pfizer product out of proportion, saying the capacity is already here on Guam.
“It’s a freezer! It’s a freezer…it’s ultracold, yes, and once you’re below zero, you’re below zero. But here they recommend that -70 (degrees) and you can accomplish that easily with dry ice…you don’t even need a special refrigerator. What’s important is the quality control of that temperature,” the doctor said.
Cabrera explains that the vaccines come shipped with GPS-enabled thermometers with the shipments and Guam has to ensure that’s maintained when the product gets here for quality control.
Either way, Janela Carrera, the spokesperson for the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services, says they’ve put in a request with FEMA to source an ultra-cold freezer.
And that additionally, there’s already some suitable storage already here on island, but they’re making sure they have all the right parts to get it up and running for the Pfizer needs.
Once thawed, the Pfizer vaccines are only good for 5 days.
In addition to this allotment, Guam has been promised 2 shipments of 25,000 doses of Moderna when or if it’s approved by the FDA under the Emergency Use Authorization.
That will cover 25,000 people on island with two doses required as well. And even then, Guam will still need more to get to “herd immunity”
“The reality is that we need to get as many as 70% and because this virus is so infectious and works relatively fast, we want to get even higher than that. It remains to be seen how long the immunity will last after you get the vaccine… that’s another unknown right now,” Cabrera said.
While the 90% plus efficacy rates are very impressive, with Cabrera saying the annual flu vaccine is only 25% to 60% effective, he says even with the high rate of success, COVID will not be completely wiped out.
“Getting the flu vaccine doesn’t absolutely prevent you from getting the flu…you might still get the flu. But if you do, at least it won’t be so bad and if you’re someone at risk, it might actually keep you out of the hospital. So the same thing, I think, can be said about the COVID vaccine,” Cabrera said.
Public Health is holding a stakeholder table-top exercise tomorrow (Friday) morning to work through the logistics of the vaccine.
“This is going to be a process that takes probably a year where we have enough of the population already vaccinated. So, that’s why looking into the latter part of summer or even into later in 2021, that’s when we’ll feel much better about what we’re predicting,” Cabrera said.
Pfizer is awaiting its Emergency Use Authorization which is anticipated in the next 1-2 weeks…and then it’ll be shipped to Guam.