Guam's vaccination model reels from a new wave of COVID-19

Once hailed as a vaccination success story, Guam (USA) is struggling to cope with a new wave of COVID-19. But experts say the incidence would be even higher without a vaccine.

Despite its high vaccination rate, Guam still recorded a spike in COVID-19 cases. Photo: The Guardian

According to The Guardian (UK), Guam used to be one of the areas with the most successful vaccination campaigns in the US, with nearly 90% of the population having received 2 doses of the vaccine. The island even began to vaccinate tourists under the vaccine resort program "Air VnV".

However, when the third wave of COVID-19 hit, the number of hospitalized patients increased sharply with the highest daily death rate since March 2020, hospitals were overwhelmed. Outside Guam Memorial Hospital, health officials had to temporarily set up tents outside the campus to support the treatment of a large number of patients. This scene made many people on Guam extremely confused.

In a video released by the government urging people to get vaccinated, Pauline Perez, a nurse at the hospital, said: "We have no room, a lot of COVID-19 patients are waiting outside. We use blue medical tents for stable COVID-19 patients. They need to be checked by a doctor, but no longer need treatment.”

Even before the pandemic broke out, Guam's health care system was fragile. The increase in Delta variant infections has pushed the health system to the brink of collapse. Last week, the public hospital had to suspend voluntary surgical services to focus its limited resources on treating COVID-19 patients.

Mai Habib, a hospital spokeswoman, said: “Human resources are a big problem. That's why we have to pause voluntary surgeries to mobilize more staff to help treat more patients."

A resident is vaccinated at the UOG Fieldhouse Immunization Center, Guam. Photo: The Guardian
A resident is vaccinated at the UOG Fieldhouse Immunization Center, Guam. Photo: The Guardian

The Guam Regional Medical City private hospital is in a similar predicament. Dr Alexander Wielaard, the hospital's medical director, said: "We are in a crisis. We have seen an unusual increase in the number of patients.”

After months of steady decline in cases, Guam suddenly saw nearly 300 cases in just a few days in recent weeks. The island has recorded 14,705 cases of COVID-19, representing 9% of its 160,000 population, with 195 deaths.

In addition, the COVID-19 test results over the past 2 months have shown an alarming rate of infections in vaccinated people (barrier cases), with 554 out of 1,765 COVID-19 cases. -19.

The surge in COVID-19 cases on an island with a 90% vaccination rate is confusing experts. To date, 118,756 people 12 years of age and older, 87.13% of Guam's population, have been fully vaccinated. Among these are 10,318 residents between the ages of 12 and 17.

The rate of infections that crossed the barrier also made people confused. Dori Leomo, a resident of Tamuning village, said: “One of my colleagues received a positive test result for COVID-19. I cried after hearing the news. This is the first time I feel nervous. The next day, everyone at my workplace had to get tested. Thank God the result was negative.”

While some people are still hesitant to get vaccinated, experts warn that vaccines are working very well in preventing hospitalizations and deaths. If vaccinated people are hospitalized, their treatment time is much shorter and the disease is less severe than unvaccinated people.

“Most of the COVID-19 patients who require longer treatment are unvaccinated. The average hospital stay of those vaccinated was about 2 days. They are mostly minors and use fewer hospital resources than unvaccinated people,” said Dr. Nathan Berg, head of the Guam governor's medical advisory group.

Dr. Nathaniel Berg. Photo: The Guardian
Dr. Nathaniel Berg. Photo: The Guardian

Experts have also given a number of reasons why the third wave of COVID-19 epidemic appeared on the island.

“The reason for the high incidence of the disease may be related to the close family culture. Besides, the high rate of people with underlying diseases can also weaken the immune system,” said a doctor on the island. In addition, experts also say that the early lifting of restrictions is partly responsible for the increase in COVID-19 cases. When social distancing measures were lifted, many islanders gathered at weddings and funerals, and they had faith that Guam could soon return to normal even if the Delta variant attacked the island.

Dr. Peter Lombard, a member of the medical advisory group, attributed the high rate of infections to the fact that the effectiveness of the vaccine gradually decreased after 6 months of vaccination.

“Looking at the vaccine distribution and the large number of vaccines being supplied to Guam, I think the reason for the resurgence of the disease is because many people were vaccinated early. The vaccine's effectiveness has therefore declined earlier than in other regions," he said.

Both doctors Lombard and Berg also agree that Guam has benefited greatly from high vaccination rates. Without the vaccination campaign, the number of virus cases on the island would be three times worse.

“Despite the recent increase in COVID-19 cases, if we look at the mortality rate in the population, we see that we are still doing well and that is an achievement,” Mr. Berg said.

Google Tech News

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