Published On: Thu, Mar 4th, 2021

Procedures allow vaccination tourism

PHILIPSBURG — Has St. Maarten become a hotspot for vaccine tourism? That question came up recently after reports that the White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation in St. John’s Estate is vaccinating walk-ins, among them at least two tourists.

While the intention of the vaccination program is to prioritize handling front-liners and vulnerable citizens over the age of sixty, a closer look at the procedures the government has established shows that anybody can get his or her vaccine at any time. All people have to do is fill out a registration form that is available online at https://onlineservices.sintmaartengov.org/covidvaccine/.

On its website the White and Yellow Cross notes that the vaccine is “safe, free of charge and cannot change your DNA.” Furthermore, the foundation states that the vaccine is “available to everybody who currently resides on the Dutch side. No immigration checks will be done.”

The registration form requires applicants to provide their name, date of birth, mobile phone number, address and email address and any official ID number. In other words, applicants do not have to show a St. Maarten ID to get an appointment for vaccination. They must however provide a copy of their ID or passport, indicate who their house doctor is and state whether or not they have any medical condition. And that’s it.

There are no explanatory notes that define for instance what must be understood from the term reside. If you are a visitor to the island and you stay with friends or family, are you then “currently residing” on the Dutch side? Is this also true for people who stay at a hotel or for timeshare owners who may spend several months in St. Maarten?

In an attempt to tackle this situation, the Vaccine Management Team stated in a press release on the government website that it is aware of the reports about vaccination tourism and that, without providing further explanation, it is “working on a solution to filter them out.”

However, VMT notes that the vaccine is available to all residents of St. Maarten, including undocumented residents who are estimated to make up one-third of the population. “Without this group it is impossible to reach herd immunity,” VMT states.

Collective Preventive Services (CPS) stores information provided via the registration forms for a period of ten years – unless an applicant asks for it to be removed before that term expires. Copies of IDs and passports are removed from the system after applicants have received their first shot.

CPS will share depersonalized information with the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and Environment (RIVM), with Lareb, a Dutch center for registration and evaluation of side effects of medication, and for scientific research.

Up to February 28 Lareb received 6,344 reports about side-effects from the three available COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca). Most reports were about the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, but Lareb warns on its web site that its data cannot be used to compare the three vaccines with each other. St. Maarten is using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Furthermore, Lareb notes that side-effects are not necessarily due to the vaccines, because other factors can be in play as well.

Nevertheless, the data show that most reports about side-effects concern the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine (5,799), while there were only 304 reports about Moderna and 138 about AstraZeneca. The overwhelming number of reports came from women (87.9 percent), the remaining 12.1 percent from men and they cover all ages between 20 and 59.

The White and Yellow Cross gave the first vaccination on Monday, February 22, to its Quality Nurse Claudette Rijff. In the week that followed the foundation vaccinated close to 700 people. By March 1, the number of vaccinated people had reached the one thousand-mark.

StMaartenNews.com has reached out to the White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation for a comment.