Doctor: 1st dose could be considered vaccinated; age range will be lowered

ONLINE PRESS CONFERENCE: Dr. Mike Cruz, the governor's medical adviser, joined Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero and fellow health professionals for an online press conference in March 2020. Screenshot from video

Officials are currently discussing whether to consider individuals who have received only first doses of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines as vaccinated against COVID-19, at least in terms of Guam's percentage count, according to Dr. Mike Cruz, president and CEO of Guam Regional Medical City and a member of the governor's Physicians Advisory Group.

"We're not talking about full vaccination," Cruz said during a reopening task force meeting with Guam Visitors Bureau officials. But the physicians advisory group wanted to weigh whether first doses could be counted for the protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death.

The group essentially agreed and recommended the concept, according to Cruz. The Department of Public Health and Social Services is more concerned, but even the governor is trying to push them "a little bit as well," he added.

"I think most people would agree, for the purposes of the percent towards vaccination of our community, a one-dose Moderna or one-dose Pfizer would be considered toward that," Cruz said. "That's not a total vaccination but it still gives you the protection, just like the one and only dose of Johnson & Johnson (vaccine)."

The governor's goal is to vaccinate a little more than the 100,000 individuals necessary to achieve herd immunity by July 21, Guam's Liberation Day.

As of Friday night, a total of 26,956 Guamanians were fully immunized.

Just about a week ago, the island received its 35,260 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for the month of March. An additional 1,300 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine also were recently received but won't be administered until about 7,000 individuals needing second doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine are immunized.

GVB and the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association have been working on a census for a workforce vaccination program for the tourism industry. The first group identified for vaccination includes workers involved in transportation from the airport to hotels. The second group is made up of workers in restaurants, bars and retail establishments.

Cruz said there are competing efforts for the vaccines. The estimate floated during Friday's meeting for all tourism industry employees needing a vaccine was 5,000 workers.

"If we can at least push to 3,000 number, then maybe that would be a number to try and get to," Cruz said.

A vaccination venue also is needed, but Cruz suggested that workers should be encouraged to try to get vaccinated.

"What we saw at the (University of Guam) vaccination sites today, for some reason, we're not seeing the desire or people are not showing up. ... So the governor this morning said, 'You know what, we just need to push the age down again. All the way down,'" Cruz said during the meeting Friday afternoon.

The vaccination age range is currently at 50 years or older, but Cruz said that threshold soon will be pushed down to 40 years. Tourism workers should be encouraged to get vaccinated if they are in the age range, and not necessarily wait for the industry vaccination effort, the doctor added.

President Joe Biden also recently announced that he wants all adults in all states and territories eligible for COVID-19 vaccine by May 1.

Testing program

On top of vaccinations, officials are looking at standing up a robust testing program for the tourism workforce, an initiative that will need to be coordinated with Public Health.

Another major project is to ramp up a testing site for visitors because they will need to be tested to go back home, according to Sam Shinohara, managing director for Asia/Pacific and airport operations at United Airlines, who heads the reopening task force.

The desire at this point is for GVB to find resources to accommodate the cost of testing, at least for an initial basis, so that Guam is more enticing compared to other destinations.

But costs can grow quickly if numbers ramp up, and GVB is not confident it has all the resources to support such a program. However, the agency will make a plea to use some of the funding from the federal American Rescue Plan recently enacted into law. But that money would also dry up quickly, based on how much tests cost, according to Shinohara.

There is no firm date on when Guam can expect to open to tourists again, but the governor has targeted May.

Guam should temper expectations even if the island can open in May, Shinohara said. However, it is still important to execute as well as possible for May in order to leave positive impressions and signal that Guam is ready to host tourists, Shinohara said.

"We need to be ready and we need to be ready the right way," he added.

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