With more doses arriving Pohnpei begins to share information on COVID-19 vaccination process 

By Bill Jaynes

The Kaselehlie Press

 

January 31, 2021

Pohnpei—On January 28, 2021, after a month of issuing vaccines, Pohnpei State Enginkehlap issued its first press release on the availability of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to residents of Pohnpei. The press release appeared on social media and as of today had not been posted to the Pohnpei State news website.

The text of the Press Release follows:

“Peilapalap, Kolonia, Pohnpei---The Pohnpei State COVID-19 Task Force would like to inform the General Public that the first batch of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are available and currently being administered to Front line and Essential Workers; individuals 60 years and older; and those with underlying chronic medical conditions. This is in line with guidelines to prioritize people considered most at-risk and vulnerable to COVID-19 for now while more vaccine supplies come in to cater for other eligible persons.

“As of today, individuals 40-59 years old are also now eligible to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is now available at the Public Health Division of the Department of Health and Social Services, located across from the Pohnpei State Hospital.

“The Public Health Division is open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM Monday to Friday. Eligible persons will be required to fill out a brief questionnaire before they are vaccinated. The vaccination is voluntary!

“The Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine is a two-shot vaccine, with the second dose recommended to be taken 28 days apart. The shot is given in the muscle of the upper arm.

“According to the US Centers for Disease Control, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is safe and about 94.1% effective in preventing COVID-19 illnesses in people who received the recommended two doses.

As of 26 January 2021, Pohnpei State has administered 1,290 doses of the vaccine, having received an additional 3,800 doses.”

In the absence of any previous widely publicized State public information on who was eligible for the vaccine or where residents could get it if they were eligible, many were left guessing.  Many people reported having simply shown up and getting the vaccine just by asking. Others reported having no idea where they should show up to ask in the first place.

Dr. Rally Jim, during an informal interview said that he didn’t know how Pohnpei was getting the information out about the availability of the vaccine and who was eligible at any given time.  He said during that interview, held at the vaccination center at Public Health early last week at the location described in the press release issued two days later, that they were only giving the vaccine to people aged 60 and up, and to front line responders. He also said that the vaccination is being given only in one place due to the difficulties of storage of the vaccine that limits their ability to deliver it in the villages.

Meanwhile, photos of smiling young people holding up their “I got vaccinated” stickers, many of them half the age of the lower age limit, and most not first responders, began to proliferate on Social Media leaving some residents to wonder “What gives? How did they get it and I can’t even find out how?”

It is absolutely vital that as many residents receive the vaccine as possible—70 to 80 percent would be the ideal minimum, which in Pohnpei means at least 24,500 people, each requiring two doses of the vaccine. In the entire FSM that number is over 70,000 at a minimum. FSM President David Panuelo said during his speech last week that the FSM would need to reach that minimum level of vaccination before he could allow repatriation of stranded FSM residents. However, a large percentage of the total population of the FSM are under the age of 18 and the Moderna vaccine is not approved for people in that age range, which further complicates matters.

As far as the application of the vaccine goes, the more, the merrier, however, at the time that the photos of young people getting the vaccine began to appear while older people in Pohnpei hadn’t even yet heard they could get it, Pohnpei had only 1500 doses. One “older person” commented that the process seemed to be “more fair for some than for others”.

Dr. Jim intimated during our informal conversation that the vaccine needs to be rolled out in an orderly fashion because there aren’t unlimited doses, but that they also needed to make room in freezer storage for the 3800 doses he expected to arrive on the next day.  He did not say, but seemed to imply that in order to do so, Public Health was sometimes vaccinating people who, strictly speaking, didn’t yet qualify.

Vaccines come in packages of 10 doses and have a short “shelf life” once they are brought to room temperature.  With that in mind, often when a couple came in together to get a vaccination and only one of them actually met the 60 and up age group, first responder, or underlying health issue criteria, Public Health often gave both of them the vaccine at the same time in order to avoid spoilage of vital doses of the vaccine that were ready for use.

At least one person, taking the incorrect advice of her friends who told her that she should just go to Public Health and ask for the vaccine, did just that but was rightly turned away.  Pohnpei Health staff members were polite but told her that if she was younger than 60 or wasn’t “on the list”, they could not give her the vaccine until it was made available to her age range. They told her that “the list” consisted of “essential employees” and that the names on it were provided by employers. Her name wasn’t on “the list”.

Though in two separate emails Governor Oliver instructed staff members to answer our questions regarding the vaccination process, no one responded to our specific questions on the matter of “the list” and how it was assembled. One government staff member replied only that he wanted to know where the questions came from. None provided direct, or even indirect answers to the simple questions of what types of employers were contacted to provide the names, how they were contacted, or what standard was used to define an “essential employee” for those employers who were contacted and who responded. From the photos on social media of happy people who received the vaccine, it didn’t appear that there was any standard other than their employers having been contacted to provide their list.

Even with “the list”, Pohnpei did not use up its doses of Moderna vaccine before the next, and larger shipment provided by the U.S. Government arrived and so now, public announcements are at last being made.

Editors Note:

Once I got through the information obstacles, I found the process of receiving the vaccine to be simple and it took very little time. The injection was nearly painless and the dedicated attendants were friendly and efficient. Other than being a bit drowsy at the end of the day, which I often am anyway, the only other side effect I had was a sore shoulder that reminded me of when my brother and I used to trade punches as kids trying to raise a goose egg on each other’s arm. For me, that dull pain lasted for three days—a tiny price to pay.

 

For the sake of the community, this editor strongly encourages every resident who qualifies to get the vaccine, if not for their own individual protection, which is also very important, then for the good of the community as a whole—for your parents, your sisters, your brothers, your children, your aunts and uncles and for everyone else’s relatives as well.

 

I also encourage residents to listen to the advice of respected scientists rather than to social media quacks and conspiracy theorists.