Children age 6 months and older are now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the V.I. Health Department announced Tuesday.
Speaking at the weekly Government House press briefing, Territorial Epidemiologist Dr. Esther Ellis said Pfizer-BioNtech vaccines are now authorized for children ages 6 months to four years old as a three-dose primary series and for ages 5 to 17 as a two-dose primary series. In addition, Moderna vaccines are authorized for ages 6 months to five years old as a two-dose primary series.
“As of today, anyone 6 months or older can now get vaccinated, which is very exciting news,” said Ellis.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced the expanded eligibility on Saturday. The vaccines have undergone, and continue to undergo, the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history, the CDC said, and recommends that all children, including those who have already had COVID-19, should get vaccinated.
The pediatric vaccines are available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays at the Charles Harwood Memorial Complex and on Tuesdays and Fridays at the Maternal Child Health Clinic on St. Croix; from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays at the Maternal Child Health Clinic on St. Thomas; and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays at the Port Authority gravel lot on St. John. Call 340-777-8227 to schedule an appointment or book one online at covid19usvi.com/vaccines. Walk-ins also are welcome. Parents and guardians are reminded to bring their identification as well as their child’s ID and birth certificate.
As of Tuesday, there are 184 active COVID-19 cases in the territory, with 134 on St. Croix, 49 on St. Thomas, and one on St. John, said Ellis. Of those, three people are hospitalized on St. Croix and one on St. Thomas, she said. The territory’s death toll from the virus stands at 118 since the pandemic began in March 2020, with the most recent fatality, a 75-year-old man on St. Croix, announced on Friday.
While active cases are lower than they have been in recent weeks and months, and as the territory loosens its mandates, the coronavirus remains a real threat, said Ellis, who urged those who plan to attend St. John carnival festivities starting June 28 to remain vigilant.
“As we have clearly seen, after both the St. Thomas Carnival and the St. Croix Ag Fair, COVID cases did increase. That’s why it’s up to each and every one of us to self-monitor our environment and respond appropriately. If that means wearing a mask in a crowded situation, that will protect you from bringing COVID back to your family,” said Ellis.
“COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon. Our situation following our own large events should serve as a stark reminder that the coronavirus continues to be a real health risk. Please remember that getting vaccinated and boosted is the best protection against severe disease from COVID-19,” said Ellis.
“Please feel empowered to evaluate your surroundings and respond accordingly. If you are in a crowded setting, among people with whom you do not reside, consider following all the standard COVID-19 precautionary measures such as wear a mask, socially distance, wash your hands frequently and sanitize your hands” said Ellis.
The Health Department also is monitoring the recent monkeypox outbreak that is occurring in areas where it is not normally found, with 2,525 cases across North America and Europe, including 112 in the United States, according to the latest CDC figures.
“No cases have been confirmed in the territory thus far, however antivirals are available and can be prescribed as treatment if needed,” said Ellis. While monkeypox does not naturally occur in the U.S., “historically cases have occurred in association with international travel or importing animals from areas where the disease is more common,” she said.
The virus is typically transmitted as a result of close skin-to-skin contact, which health officials are seeing with the current outbreak, or from sexual activity with an infected person, said Ellis.
In other health news, drive-through COVID-19 testing is currently canceled on Wednesdays at the Schneider Regional Medical Center loading dock, said Ellis, but is still available from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.
“This new schedule is being adopted so that the limited Department of Health personnel may continue to provide routine, once-a-week testing and vaccine services on the island of St. John,” said Ellis.
Additionally, the public is advised that as of Tuesday, anyone visiting the Community Health Clinic at the hospital on St. Thomas should use the main lobby entrance, said Ellis.
Ellis also advised that there has been a delay in processing the $250 vaccine incentive gift cards that were promised to those who received their vaccines or boosters in April.
“We have not forgotten those who received their vaccination or boosters back in April. We have ordered the cards. We expect these cards to be available shortly, and we will issue a press release as soon as they can be picked up,” said Ellis.
Regarding the administration’s efforts to become current on income tax refunds, Government House Communications Director Richard Motta said 5,152 checks went out last week, and another 5,513 are scheduled for issuance later this week, with the majority – 8,637 – covering the 2020 tax year, with a total payment amount of $25 million this quarter.
Motta also reminded the community that the deadline to apply for the Government of the Virgin Islands Fellows program is July 15.
The program offers two-year paid fellowships for Virgin Islanders with a bachelor’s degree or higher in project management, economics, business administration, construction management, accounting, engineering, and finance, said, Motta. Participants work on six-month rotations within the government’s financial and project management agencies, including the Office of Management and Budget, Finance Department, Bureau of Internal Revenue, and Office of Disaster Recovery, he said. For more information, visit the Personnel Department website at www.visitdopusvi.org.
“Even as we move to treat COVID-19 as an endemic and although, knock on wood, the virus’ impact on our community is less severe than in the past, there are still, as Dr. Ellis mentioned, real-world impacts — mainly the disruption of many of our regular operations through our many government agencies and offices,” said Motta.
He said anyone who has difficulty reaching a USVI government agency should contact their island administrator: Sammuel Sanes on St. Croix at 340-773-1404; Avery Lewis on St. Thomas/Water Island at 340-774-0001; and Shikima Jones-Sprauve on St. John at 340-474-5762.