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  • By Bea Cabrera

US surgeon general: vaccine available for Guam by end of the year

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams gave a glimmer of hope that vaccines will be available by the end of 2020 and the early batches will first go to those most at risk.

“We are likely to have one or more vaccines for Covid-19 that will be proven safe and effective before the end of this year. Over the coming months, our aim is to vaccinate millions of Americans and extend protection from Covid 19 across the continent and the Pacific,” he said.

Adams spoke before Guam government officials including Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero and Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio, professional health workers and frontliners in a virtual meeting Thursday,

“We will need the help of the people of Guam and other folks in region about vaccine safety and efficacy to ensure equitable and easy access when the time comes," Adams said. "It will be a real shame and a tragedy if we had a cure for this virus and safe and effective vaccine but we weren’t able to stop it on Guam because we weren’t able to get people to accept this vaccine."

While saying "Guam is clearly in the Covid-19 crosshairs now," Adams expressed confidence that the island "can regain control of this virus once again."

In the earlier months, Guam managed to control the spread of the coronavirus. Thus, Adams said, the island served as the model of success for the rest of the nation.

“We talked about you in the mainland as really the exemplars for how to control this virus. You are who we brag about on the Coronavirus Task Force and I know you can do this yet again. You just need the confidence and the will to do it. A strong community is a tremendous asset,” he added.

The second wave, however,rolled in om Guam around August.

Public Health Director Arthur U. San Agustin gave an update on Guam's Covid-19 situation. “Our positive case count in March was 77 but in June positive cases increased to 92 and then 95 in July. However, in August the positive case count exponentially increased to 1,085 approximately 1,000 percent increase and increasing further in September to 1,108 and literally doubling in October to 2, 209.”

“The past three months-August, September and October totaled to 4,402 positive cases or 90 percent of the total positive cases of 4,903. These three months have been the most challenging period as we have seen surges in hospitals," he said.

The Department of Public Health and Social Services created created a rapid engagement team to respond and to provide intervention in containing and control the spread of the virus.

" We have also seen an increase in request for testing to lessen the loss of family and friends to the virus,” San Agustin said.

Adams noted how Covid-19 has shaken the world to its core and the United States has struggled in the past 11 months.

According to Adams, studies show that people of color are largely hit by the virus because social distancing is a big challenge.

"They are likely living in densely populated areas or multi-generational homes, most likely to use public transportations," Adams said. "Only 1 in 5 African Americans and one in six Hispanic-Americans have a job that allows them to work from home. Many Guamanians don’t have jobs that allow them to telework and we know these factors collectively create the spread of a high contagious disease like Covid19 and make it much harder for people to isolate or quarantine when diagnosed after exposure to the virus,” he said.

“As a consequence, in the mainland we have seen American Indians, Alaksa natives and Africa Americans hospitalized five times higher than white people. Hospitalization rates are four and a half times higher for Hispanics compared to white people. We know that Chamorros and especially the Chukese have been hard hit in Guam. Part of my work in the region is addressing these disparities and finding effective methods to advance health equity,” he added.

These findings were only fortified by the effects of the pandemic and Adams said that within the U.S. government, they have acknowledged that to prevent these terrible and desperate outcomes, there is much more thant needs to be done.

“Tragically, there have been more than 2,300 fatalties due to Covid-19 across the U.S. and we are approaching 9.3 million Americans diagnosed. Guam data suggest that Chukese and Micronesian population have been hardest hit that goes to show everyone is vulnerable regardless of geographic location.”

Adams said the impact of this pandemic also goes beyond physical illness.

"I’ve always stressed that physical and mental helath are equally important. This pandemic has revealed the psychological threat of physical distancing which again as a tactic we recommend to slow the spread of the virus but it could lead to social isolation and mental health can suffer," Adams said. "That’s why I encourage you to use healthy mechanisms to lessen stress and anxiety which is to practice tried and true habits that will keep us safe and heathy both mind, body and spirit."

Adams stressed the strength of the people of Guam when it comes to going through challenges. “I know that this is a very stressful time but the people of Guam have experienced greater stresses before. You have faced devastation time and again from typhoons and time and again have rebuilt and restored your communities,” he said.

He noted that Guam's role in World War II molded the island's strength and resilience.

"Your tenacity, spirit and your resolve are what will get you through this pandemic and even though we have fatigue right now, we should understand many of you and your elders have been through much worse and we will all come out of it on the other side much stronger if we stuck together,” he added.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said the coronavirus "has even made the strongest among us to their knees. For eight months we have been battling the largest crisis in the world and that is why we’ve been engaged in the largest public health response in our history," she said.

The governor said the Federal Emergency Management Agency predicted that Guam could see as many as 26,000 cases. Our actual number was 4,500. FEMA’s same model predicted that Covid-19 hospitalization would peak at 3,000 in June our actual number in October is less than a hundred,” she said.

“What we are experiencing in Guam is no different to what has happened and what is happening throughout the U.S." Leon Guerrero said.

"I know many of us are tired and we long for our life before Covid-19 but that mindset will be our downfall. Surviving this virus does not mean going back to business as usual for it means adopting best practices to protect ourselves and our community for the foreseeable future. This is difficult and it will a test unlike any we have seen before but I know our people and I know that we will get through this,” she added.


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