Public Health explains vaccination for senators

VACCINE: Nurses with the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services prepare COVID-19 vaccine shots during a vaccination outreach event held at the Agat Gym on Friday. Dontana Keraskes/The Guam Daily Post

The decision of the Vaccine and Antiviral Prioritization Policy Committee to give priority to senators to receive the COVID-19 vaccine was in the interest of continuity of government, the Public Health director said Friday.

“The different thought process we had was leadership in the operations of government," said Department of Public Health and Social Services Director Arthur San Agustin.

After the mayors and their mayoral staff members were approved for vaccination, San Agustin said, "we took, as a committee, ... consideration for the senators, the 15 members of our Guam Legislature.”

It was not extended to their staff, only the elected officials, San Agustin said during Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero's COVID-19 press conference on Friday.

Prior to this authorization, COVID-19 vaccinations were limited to critical service workers within the phase 1 category, which included health care workers, local and federal law enforcement, child care center employees and adults 55 and older, to name a few.

The vaccine committee opened up vaccination eligibility to six senators who otherwise did not meet the age threshold because they're below the age of 55.

Retail service workers still waiting

Meanwhile, many front-liners under 55, including cashiers at grocery stores, attendants pumping gas at service stations and fast-food workers, among others, are still waiting to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination.

San Agustin said high-contact-level front-liners including retail service workers are on the radar for the vaccine committee to consider for eligibility.

“But right now, for this month, the focus of the group has been ... on second dose. As more doses become available, those groups will be brought up again for consideration,” said San Agustin.

Sen. Clynton Ridgell said he was eligible as a caregiver even before senators younger than 55 qualified. He is a caregiver to a family member and that made him qualified for the vaccine, he said.

Sen. Tony Ada was eligible under the funeral service provider and crematory operator category. His family runs a funeral business.

Senators respond

The Guam Daily Post reached out to all 15 senators to see how they felt about being included before retail service workers qualified. Eight out of 15 senators responded.

“Perhaps the principle of continuity of government influenced the decision-making process of Public Health authorities as they considered approval of vaccinations for the governor, mayors, senators and other elected officials,” said Sen. Telo Taitague.

Sen. Amanda Shelton, who received the first dose of the vaccine on Feb. 15, said she made the decision to get vaccinated because she believes it is an important tool to keep the island community safe and end the pandemic.

“For multiple public hearings throughout the week and an entire week out of the month for session, I sit in a room with 10 of my colleagues and numerous staff who are senior citizens and at a greater risk if exposed to COVID-19. I respect them and want to do my part to protect them,” said Shelton.

Sen. Chris Duenas, a COVID-19 survivor, said he will be the last to receive the vaccine. He said he did not agree with the vaccine committee's decision to allow senators who are not seniors or are otherwise ineligible to get vaccinated before retail service workers received their vaccine.

Ridgell said retail service workers should get vaccinated first. “However, I would like to note that on one hand there have been many people who have said that the leaders should take the vaccine first to prove that it's safe and effective and on the other hand there are those who say the leaders should go last. So we are damned if we do, damned if we don't. Either way, I encourage everyone to get the vaccine as soon as they can,” said Ridgell.

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