Obesity, diabetes rates contribute to high COVID-19 cases in Guam

VACCINE: Dozens of doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are ready to be administered at the University of Guam Calvo Field House in Mangilao on Sept. 13. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

One request for COVID-19 vaccine exemption was granted out of about 175 requests received before the Department of Public Health and Social Services paused the review and processing of exemption requests, officials said on Monday.

Public Health Director Art San Agustin said the processing will remain on pause because of consultations with the Office of the Attorney General, particularly with regard to DPHSS' authority when it comes to exemptions sought by private sector employees.

"Our position at this point is that we’re pausing (processing) exemptions for workers' request simply because if that (vaccination) is the private company's policy, and if that's a requirement for employment, then that would be their decision to make and not necessarily Public Health's," San Agustin said.

For GovGuam employees, they're also supposed to write to the Department of Administration and not to Public Health, San Agustin said, citing DOA's own circular.

Another item that will be explored with the AG's office is whether private sector employers and DOA would still have to notify DPHSS of the vaccine exemption requests they granted.

San Agustin said if an advisory needs to be released on this, DPHSS is aiming to get it out this week.

He said one request for COVID-19 vaccine exemption for medical reason has been acted upon, but no action has been made on a religious exemption request.

To date, DPHSS received over 175 requests for vaccine exemptions, most of them for religious exemptions.

That includes more than 160 received before the Sept. 24 full vaccination deadline for the executive branch of GovGuam, and the requests included those from the private sector.

Janela Carrera, DPHSS spokesperson, said DPHSS received nine additional religious exemption requests and four more medical exemption requests as of Monday.

As of Oct. 8, DPHSS processed 21 religious exemption requests and four medical exemption requests. 

"So far, one medical exemption request was approved. The remaining requests are pending," she said. "We put a pause as we further consult with the Attorney General's Office at this time."

While exemption requests are being processed or while the processing is on pause, these individuals must undergo weekly COVID-19 testing, DPHSS earlier said.

Carrera said she's not familiar with the specifics of the one medical exemption that was granted but in general, she said, "a medical exemption to COVID-19 vaccination does not necessarily mean you are also exempted from testing."

The Archdiocese of Agaña earlier said it is not issuing letters to vouch for Catholics seeking exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination for religious reasons. Most Guam residents are Catholics.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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