After COVID claimed more than 300,000 lives, Americans received word in December that two vaccines had been granted emergency authorization in the United States. Now, as the first Virgin Islanders have begun to receive their vaccinations, questions are emerging about who should get the first doses and how distribution is being managed. At AARP in The Virgin Islands, we are urging our state’s leaders to follow the science and prioritize older adults. Our leaders must be transparent and responsive about where and how vaccines are being given.
Nationally, Americans over the age of 50 account for nearly 95 percent of all COVID deaths. Here in the Virgin Islands, although our death rate has been the lowest in the nation, 24 people have died, with older people and their families hit hard by the virus.
The situation in nursing homes is particularly dire. Residents and staff of nursing homes account for nearly 40 percent of all COVID deaths, though they are less than 1 percent of the population. Tragically, this situation has gotten concerning over the last few months, with many of the territorial deaths being older adults living at assisted living facilities and staff of the same contracting the virus. And then there are our hospitals, which are under tremendous strain. According to the CDC, people ages 50 to 64 with COVID are four times more likely to end up in the hospital than their younger counterparts, and worryingly, at 30 times greater risk for death. If you are 65 to 74 years old, the risks are even higher.
Clearly, states vaccination plans must prioritize the most vulnerable. That includes older Virgin Islanders who are at much higher risk of death to COVID. And, we need to ensure residents and staff of long-term care facilities can receive vaccinations as soon as possible to prevent further loss of life.
As we move forward with the real-time distribution of vaccines, we must ensure that our state’s plans are implemented smoothly and efficiently. The first weeks of vaccine distribution got off to an unsteady start in the Virgin Islands, and all across America. Every day, residents in the territory have questions about when and how they can get a vaccine. We need our federal government, state officials and the private sector to work together to be much more clear about when and how to sign up to be vaccinated and to efficiently manage the processes to administer the vaccines.
To help our members and all Virgin Islanders, AARP will publish a guide of The Virgin Islands distribution plans, explaining how distribution will work, eligibility, the timeline, vaccination locations and other key details. The state guide will be published shortly on aarp.org/vi and will be updated throughout the year as new information is available.
Transparency is critical to an effective vaccine plan to make sure our distribution systems are functioning like they should, to know what’s working and what’s not. We must ensure that every Virgin Islander who wants a vaccine can receive one. AARP in The Virgin Islands has asked Governor Albert Bryan to regularly post information and updates on vaccine administration on a public website to ensure transparency about state efforts as well as critical information when additional individuals will be eligible to be vaccinated.
Since March 2020, we have joined together to battle coronavirus and its health and economic consequences. We now have the hope of ending the pandemic through widespread vaccination, but for it to work, our state must make and implement plans that are guided by the evidence. It’s time for full-scale mobilization. When we do that work well, we will finally get back to normal.
Editor’s note: Troy A. de Chabert-Schuster is the state director of AARP in The Virgin Islands