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Acting Health Director is only Task Force member to show up for Senate hearing

Health Department acting director, Vesi Talalelei Fautanu Jr
Senators ask why ASG is spending local funds on vaxx incentives

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Instead of using a quarter-million dollars in local revenue to fund a government-sponsored raffle to boost COVID-19 vaccinations, some senators suggested other options such as working with village pulenu’u.

This was raised during the Senate Health/Hospital Committee hearing last week, where the COVID-19 Task Force was requested to testify and answer several concerns and questions from senators.

However, the only ASG witness who showed-up for the nearly one-hour hearing, was the Health Department’s acting director, Vesi Talalelei Fautanu Jr., and the committee decided to continue the hearing covering COVID-19 issues relating to DoH. One of them was the government’s “Protect AS One” COVID-19 campaign, offering up to $250,000 in raffle prizes for those who are fully vaccinated.

Responding to a committee question, Vesi — who is also DoH deputy director — said money for the raffle comes from Governor’s Office budget and that none of the COVID-19 funds are being used — and he stressed this twice.

However, some senators suggested that instead of using these funds — which are from local revenue — the government should focus attention on boosting vaccinations by working with villages mayors, heads of departments and agencies, and don’t give out benefits such as food stamps and WIC until proof is shown that family members eligible for COVID-19 shots have been fully vaccinated.

Sen. Magalei Logovi’i said that in his village, he would visit a family that has not received their shots to have them get it done, while Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean pointed out that he has already made it a priority to encouraged members of his church to get vaccinated.

Vesi explained that through the Office of Samoan Affairs, DoH has been working with village pulenuu to identify families who have not gotten their shots. And the list of those families is used by DoH in its outreach to get those families their shots.

As for ASG agencies, he said the governor has already issued a call to all cabinet members who are encouraged and urged to have their respective workers to be fully vaccinated. Additionally, foreigners seeking to renew their immigration ID or get immigration clearance will not have it issued unless proof is given that they have been vaccinated.

Vesi also shared with the committee a DoH data report on the latest update, as of July 26th, the number of those who have been fully vaccinated as well as those who have only received one-shot.

Based on the last US Census count, the eligible population — 12-years and older — for the COVID vaccine is 37,000, with the current focus of getting 80% or more vaccinated. DoH data posted on its Facebook page on July 28th shows that 52.5% of the eligible population is now fully vaccinated.

“Remember our goal is to achieve 80% or higher. If you still haven’t gotten your vaccine, please come in and get it today. A reminder to all those who are past due for their second dose, please come in and get your second dose,” said DoH.

Responding to a Senate committee question during the hearing, Vesi said that among the reasons, based on information DoH has received, that some people don’t want to be vaccinated is their religious belief. He noted that even church pastors have called DoH about the reason for not getting the shots.

Tuaolo shared with Vesi that senators were among the first local residents who have already received the two-required COVID shots for full vaccination protection.

Vaccinations for lawmakers, including Fono employees, were carried out early this year at the LBJ Medical Center compound, once the vaccine was available on island.