Speaking to business leaders at the Saipan Chamber of Commerce’s membership meeting yesterday at the Grand Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Saipan, Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. chief operating officer Subroto Banerji said that they are trying to avail as many vaccines that the CNMI can store.
“In the CNMI we are getting ready to support vaccination for all in the community and it is our goal and that of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and the rest of the COVID-19 Task Force to make sure every resident of the CNMI is able to receive the vaccine,” he said.
The plan is very similar for all the states and territories but the CNMI’s is a little bit different, Banerji said, because the CNMI is pushing to get as much vaccines that the Commonwealth can store “so that we can be ready to vaccinate at our schedule.”
“As you all of you know, we can’t get out things here overnight. …We are not California, Maryland, Florida, etc., where you can get things overnight and so we have been strategically looking at the numbers that we can get vaccinated in different stages,” he added.
Right now, there are three vaccine options—Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca—that are trying to secure Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That EUA will reportedly happen in the next few days.
Banrji said the vaccine comes in two shots: some are 28 days apart and others are 21 days apart. “We have started planning months in advance.” That has resulted in the arrival of 10 freezers that will be used to store the vaccines on Saipan, Tinian and Rota, he said.
Based on the proposal of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there will be three phases of vaccination and “it’s up to us to model our program toward that plan,” he said.
The first phase involves 15,000 people identified as health care workers and frontline responders. CHCC is expecting to receive the Pfizer vaccines hopefully in the next two to three weeks.
The second phase refers to individuals that are front-line responders but may have not been included in the first group. Based on the availability of the vaccines, that group will start being offered vaccination around mid-January to end of January.
The third phase will move to the rest of the population.
“We are hoping that, by then, probably going into early March, vaccines will also include the children. …Some vaccines, though, are available or have come out of clinical trials in a population of under 18. … Pfizer has just started their trial in enrolling children ages 12 to 18 so we are hoping to get that data soon,” Banerji said.
According to him, they are looking at ramping up vaccinations by setting up operations at the airport, similar with what CHCC did with the mass testing setup. “We are starting a goal of 400 to 500 vaccinations a day because we want to make sure that we can get through the population as quickly as possible and be able to start that second shot time clock right away. The longer we take the first step (first vaccine) the longer it will take us to the second step (second shot),” he said.
“We are going to do a focus group and a survey because we want to hear from the community so that we are able to go beyond the 70% [target] that the federal government is hoping that we would get. The 70% that we have been hearing about is [intended] to establish ‘herd immunity.’ That means a wider group of individuals are protected. We would like to challenge the CNMI…to aim greater than 90%. …We feel it’s possible because of the island structure, our connections between our communities,” he added.