Delta variant still a concern
The CNMI appears to be on track to hit its target of having 80% of its eligible population vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as today.
Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. chief executive officer Esther Muña is quick to caution, though, that the threat of the highly transmissible delta variant and other emerging variants of the COVID-19 virus still remain rampant globally, so there will be no immediate changes to the CNMI’s COVID-19 protocols even if it claims herd immunity.
In a virtual news briefing yesterday ahead of the CNMI reaching 80%, Muña said the CNMI is only around 100 people away from 80% of the eligible population being fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a point at which the CNMI can claim herd immunity against COVID-19.
“Herd immunity” refers to a form of indirect disease/infection protection that is achieved when a certain percentage of a population has become immune to an infection either through vaccination or past exposure to an infection/disease, reducing the chances of community spread and allowing those with no immunity to remain healthy without receiving a vaccine shot or being exposed to disease.
Muña said there will be no immediate changes to the CNMI’s COVID-19 protocols and added that she remains “very cautious” in saying that 80% is the CNMI’s herd immunity goal, citing that many in the community are still not vaccinated and the prominence of the highly infectious delta variant outside the CNMI.
“Right now, there’s going to be no immediate changes [to protocols]. …Going back to previous interviews, I am very cautious in saying that 80% is our herd immunity [goal] for the CNMI. …It’s hard for us to say that there’s herd immunity when you have a large number of individuals that are still not vaccinated,” said Muña.
“When we set the [herd immunity goal] of 80% back in March and April, the delta variant was not in the picture. The fact that [the delta variant] is highly infectious, has a shorter incubation period, [and] the fact that it can spread rapidly to the unvaccinated [are] things that we have to take into account for this community,” she added.
Muña acknowledged that reaching 80% vaccinated is a significant achievement for the CNMI but again makes clear that she and CHCC remain on high alert.
“Eighty percent is a significant number, but unfortunately there’s still a lot of individuals that are not [vaccinated]. …The delta variant is different, [and] it does worry us. …We [don’t want] our doctors overwhelmed, especially if there is community transmission and an increase in hospitalizations. When you’re seeing what’s happening in Guam and in Hawaii where they’re running out of beds, we don’t want to be in that position,” said Muña.
Guam, which has already vaccinated more than 80% of its eligible population, has lately been recording increasing numbers of daily infections, much of it blamed on the delta variant’s spread in the community.