Gov’t Transition Hearings Continue with Puerto Rico National Guard
Officials Highlight Lack of Covid-19 Vaccine Educational Campaign
SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico National Guard Adjutant Gen. José Reyes on Wednesday said an educational campaign on the Covid-19 vaccine is crucial for the public to know when and where they need to go to get vaccinated.
Reyes made the remark during the Puerto Rico government transition hearings. He gave as an example that prominent physicians form part of the campaign for this first group of people who will be receiving the vaccine, which includes doctors and nurses working at hospitals, among other staff who work at healthcare facilities.
Incoming transition member and Health Secretary-designate Carlos Mellado asked Reyes what mechanisms are being utilized if someone attempts to get the vaccine ahead of the phase in which they belong, referring to federal or state regulations that either guarantee repercussions for whoever violates the established vaccine administration order or that can prevent people from cutting in line.
“We are anxiously waiting for the Health secretary [office], and I am being very honest, for weeks I have been insisting in that a publicity campaign has to be made, an orientation campaign for the people of Puerto Rico in which we express what the phases are, when the vaccine will be administered [and] to whom,” Reyes said. “And, in the case of each phase, we should look for specific people to appeal to that specific sector. In the phase in which we are now, we should look for prominent doctors that have the credibility, to help us in those ads and in those education campaigns for the people. At the same time, for the elderly sector, we have a lot of people in Puerto Rico who are icons, artists or comedians that can appeal to that group.”
That way, he stressed, those people can reach through educational campaigns the populations that should be getting the vaccines and help influence them.
“Why? Because I think before we penalize we should educate,” Reyes assured. “Orientation avoids penalization and orientation helps to communicate to the people, because we need that 70 percent” of the population to receive the vaccine to achieve the population’s, or herd, immunity. “We conducted a survey and less than 50 percent are willing to get the vaccine. We are facing that great challenge.”
He noted that for the phase to vaccinate first responders, which began Tuesday, a campaign by Emergency Management Bureau Commissioner Nino Correa “could form part of the ads made to educate that sector.”
“So I have been insisting for weeks for that education campaign,” he said. “In the area of penalization, as this is a vaccine paid by the federal government, where the federal government invested $12 billion, if a person takes money under the table and says come to the hospital and I will vaccinate you for $3,000, that could be identified as a federal crime. That is fraud.”
With regard to the elderly population, which is at a higher risk from Covid-19 complications, these citizens fall under the Phase 1-C category and should be receiving the vaccine by February.
“The process for those who are not bedridden and can go to a drug store to receive the vaccine has an educational campaign and informs them to make an appointment with the Walgreens or CVS that is closest to them, and they will go and get their vaccine after making an appointment,” Reyes said. “Regarding those who are bedridden, we have spoken with the mayors because it will require a joint effort to be able to reach those people who are bedridden. The mayors know where those people are.”
Moments after the transition hearing concluded, officials held a brief press conference and reiterated that the government must conduct an educational campaign.
“There hasn’t been adequate citizen orientation, and we believe that an educational campaign should have been made before the vaccine process started, because there certainly are many doubts because there are still healthcare professionals, for example, who don’t know when they are supposed to get the vaccine,” Mellado said.