Federal and territorial agencies joined forces on Monday to help vaccinate 50,000 Virgin Islanders against the coronavirus by July 1, organizing community vaccination centers on the University of the Virgin Islands campuses.
“Today’s opening of the territorial-led federal supported vaccination centers on the St. Thomas and St. Croix campuses of the University of the Virgin Islands marks one step in a unified effort between the territory and the federal government,” said Eric Adams, FEMA public affairs specialist. “The territory is in the open-stage of vaccinations, Virgin Islanders are eligible to be vaccinated regardless of citizenship status, disability or employer. Vaccines are free of charge.”
Monday’s opening of the community vaccination center at UVI St. Thomas’s Sports and Fitness center marked the first day of the “general public” phase of the V.I.’s vaccination rollout, according to Dr. Tai Hunte-Ceasar, the medical director for the Department of Health.
The center will provide both first- and second-round doses of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine but does have a supply for those who may have already gotten the first round of the Moderna vaccine.
“A lot of clinics and private providers also provide other clinical services so we wanted to have these community vaccination centers so that we can just solely do vaccinations with the goal of doing at least 234 individuals every day at these centers to meet the goal of 50,000 by July 1,” Hunte-Ceasar said.
According to Hunte-Ceasar, 21,007 total doses have been administered in the USVI, with 14,221 being first doses and 6,786 begin totally immunized. Some existing clinics and private providers are able to provide 100 vaccinations a day, while others 100 throughout the week.
The vaccination center is a collaborative effort between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency and the V.I. National Guard and is being supported by Task Force 51, a joint task force of the U.S. Army’s Medical Command.
According to Col. Sally Petty of the Virgin Islands National Guard, 26 V.I. National Guard troops and 42 active-duty military staff the vaccination center.
“We want to encourage those ages of 18 to 30 that may be a little hesitant that the site moves rapidly. You won’t spend your whole lunch break waiting to get the vaccine. You’ll definitely have enough time to get the vaccine and get to your home or workstation,” Petty said.
At the vaccination center, guardsmen provide screenings and temperature tests to individuals entering the facility. The active-duty military personnel from the U.S. Army Medical Command administer the vaccines.
“We’re here in support of the territory,” said Brig. Gen. William Pendergrass, commander of Task Force 51. “We’re proud to be here, we have service members that are members of the community, and it’s wonderful to help a community that needs assistance to be able to help a government approach to vaccinating our Virgin Islanders.”
The operation is what’s called “dual-status command,” according to Steven de Blasio, deputy director of logistics with VITEMA. That means both Title 10 (active duty) and Title 32 (National Guard) service members collaborate.
“It’s something that we’re accustomed to doing,” said de Blasio. “The Title 10 folks, we got them settled, they’re handling the vaccinations, while VING [V.I. National Guard] handles pretty much everything else around the facility.”
VITEMA is handling the logistical support for scheduling. Individuals who want to make an appointment can call the VITEMA vaccination hotline at 340-777-VACS or 340-777-8227.
By 9 a.m. Monday individuals began to stream into their block scheduled vaccination appointment. Upon arriving they were asked a series of questions and had their temperature taken. After receiving the vaccination, they were asked to wait 15 minutes before leaving.
“It was pretty easy,” said Lorna Dorsett, one of the patients receiving the first round of the vaccine. “I was apprehensive at first, but I said well, I have to do what I have to do. I’m getting older.”
Editor’s Note: The projected date for 50,000 vaccinations has been corrected. The correct projected date is July 1.