The U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands have launched a joint initiative to allow BVI children ages 12 to 18 to come to the USVI for inoculation against COVID-19 with the Pfizer vaccine, according to the BVI Ministry of Health and Social Development and the V.I. Health Department.
The BVI has only the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not been approved for use in those under the age of 18. The program also is open to those over 18 who wish to receive an alternative vaccine, but BVI Health Minister Carvin Malone said at a recent press conference that priority will be given to children.
A call center has been set up to take appointments at 284-852-7525, he said.
USVI Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. has stressed at recent press conferences that anyone who arrives on the territory’s shores is eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19, no matter where they are from, no questions asked. As the BVI battles an alarming surge in cases, he also has pledged that the USVI will offer whatever support it can to its sister islands. Most recently, that has included sending personnel to the BVI to help with laboratory and antigen tests.
However, because the BVI is a foreign port, the USVI is limited in what aid it can physically send to the island, including medicines, Bryan said during a COVID-19 address to the territory on July 15.
Participants in the new vaccine initiative will travel by ferry from the West End of Tortola, arriving either on St. John or St. Thomas, be escorted to the vaccination site, and returned to the ferry to go back to the BVI, said Malone.
Travel protocols between the two territories will remain in place for the program, said Malone. This includes submitting a negative COVID-19 test to the V.I. Health Department’s travel portal within 48 hours of departure, instead of the usual 5 days, under new rules for arrivals from the BVI that Bryan announced on July 15.
The BVI has been battling a COVID-19 surge since the end of June that has seen active cases top 1,600 and 30 virus-related deaths since July 8. However, the Health Ministry announced on Monday that the highly contagious Delta variant has not been detected in samples it sent to the Caribbean Pharmaceutical Association for genetic typing. Currently, there are 584 active cases in the British territory, said Malone.
The USVI also is contending with a surge in cases, which numbered 208 as of the last report by the Health Department on Monday, with 21 people hospitalized, including a 9-year-old. The outbreak has been attributed to the Delta variant, which has been confirmed in the territory. There have been 36 deaths – the most recent, a 50-year-old St. Croix man, reported on Monday.
At his weekly press conference on Monday, Bryan urged residents to get vaccinated, and to observe all safety protocols such as masking, social distancing and frequent hand washing, or the territory could face new restrictions – including rolling back the start of school to in-person learning – to get the outbreak under control.
“We need everyone to … be extremely cautious for the next couple of weeks,” Bryan said on Monday. “If we had 80 to 90 percent vaccination rate this just would not be happening.” Currently, 38,220 people are fully vaccinated in the territory, according to the Health Department.
Meanwhile, the BVI is continuing its vaccination effort, and on Tuesday received an additional 3,040 AstraZeneca doses from the United Kingdom. A drive-through clinic is ongoing from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through July 31 at the Festival Grounds on Tortola, the Health Ministry announced. Individuals are encouraged to walk in or carpool, have a government ID, and wear short sleeves to receive their vaccines, it said.
USVI residents can get vaccinated at the free community vaccination centers located in the former Nissan Building on St. Croix, and at the Community Health Clinic on the second floor of Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas. Visit covid19usvi.com to book an appointment, or call 340-777-8227.
The department’s epidemiology hotline remains open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. for callers to report suspected cases of COVID-19 at 340-712-6299 or 340-776-1519. Free vaccines also are offered at the Health Department’s weekly pop-up testing sites, announced weekly.