While some residents are hesitant about getting vaccinated against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, the governor encourages everyone to learn about the vaccine so they can make an informed decision on whether or not to get it.
The governor, as well as Department of Public Health and Social Services officials, is encouraging everyone in the community to get the vaccine once it’s available to them.
“It’s a start to getting back to some level of normalcy,” the governor stated during a press conference on Wednesday.
The governor also was quick to say that even with the first of the vaccines being administered and a local COVID-19 Area Risk Score of less than 5, the public health emergency will likely be extended because the island remains in a state of emergency. The state of emergency is set to expire at the end of the month.
“I … will not lift the public health emergency by the end of this month,” the governor said, adding that Guam’s Pandemic Condition of Readiness 1 will likely go unchanged.
The first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines will be administered to health care front liners beginning today at Okkodo High School. However, not all health care workers are eager to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to local officials, who mentioned surveys in the medical community. And some local residents are watching closely to see how others react to the vaccine before they make up their minds.
“I don’t know if I’m going to get it,” said Yigo resident Gina Murakami.
“People have different reactions to it,” she said when asked why she’s hesitant. “Yeah, if you’re going to give it to nurses and doctors, front liners, then OK,” she said.
Murakami said there have been no long-term trials conducted, which means no one can really say what long-term effects the vaccine will have on people. She’d like to see whether Guam residents who take the vaccine early will experience side effects before she makes a decision one way or another.
Lani Lastimoza, 35, sees it differently, saying the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of the vaccine – at least for emergency use. She echoed the governor’s statements, saying it’s a “light at the end of a long tunnel.”
“I would get vaccinated and … I would encourage others to get vaccinated, yes, so we can go back to normal,” she said. She and her mom were at a local store looking for “some nice face masks.”
While they’ve come to enjoy a cute mask, the mother-daughter duo added: “We miss people.”
Possible allergic reactions
Annette Aguon, a coordinator for the COVID-19 vaccine at DPHSS, said there were various short-term reactions associated with the vaccine during the trials, including swelling at the area where the vaccine was injected, headaches and fatigue. FDA’s list of short-term side effects mentions joint pain, chills, fever, nausea, feeling unwell and swollen lymph nodes.
The FDA also lists possible severe allergic reactions: difficulty breathing, swelling on face and throat, a fast heartbeat, body rash, dizziness and weakness.
Aguon said the range of responses will vary among different people just as they would any other immunization or medication.
“So we have to observe someone for a minimum of 15 minutes and we want to make sure you are OK after the first dose,” she said, noting that anyone who is immunized will be asked to report any side effects to DPHSS or the administering provider.
The governor said scientists and medical professionals from and working with the FDA reviewed the vaccine for safety and efficacy before the agency authorized emergency use.
“I would encourage people to read as much as they can … about the vaccine, about the clinical trials and about the safety and then make your decision,” the governor said, noting that getting the vaccine is voluntary.
Jade Baluran, 28, was clear in her decision: “Deep down, would say no … I would feel like a guinea pig.”
Baluran will opt to continue wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and washing hands frequently.
“I think it’s just really good hygiene,” she said of those actions. “And by doing these, we’re teaching the younger generation how to be clean … in a natural and safe way, and hopefully those habits will help prevent other viruses and not just this one.”
She added that while many people are looking at the vaccines to build immunity, she said people will develop that naturally.
Goal to immunize as many residents as possible
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. senior official for infectious disease, told National Public Radio that 75% to 85% of the nation’s population would have to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity — or enough people are immune to the virus making it unlikely that it will spread.
Aguon said the goal is to immunize as many residents as possible and it would likely take several months as manufacturers continue to create more vaccines which will then be distributed throughout the nation.
The first 3,900 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccines arrived Tuesday, and the second batch was ordered Wednesday said Art San Agustin, DPHSS acting director.
On Friday, Guam time, a federal advisory panel is expected to review the vaccine from pharmaceutical company Moderna. If the panel endorses the vaccine’s emergency use, then the FDA will likely authorize it. Guam is authorized to get thousands of doses from Moderna – the number was initially 25,000 to arrive in Guam in January but that number has decreased.
Aguon added that herd immunity for Guam will be very difficult to reach in the near future because vaccines are limited and two doses are required in order for vaccination to be complete.
She said there will be some residents who would decline to get the vaccine and others who can’t because of various conditions.