GB Vaccine Roll Out Has Begun

Dr. Frank Bartlett was among those receiving the first shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Sunday at the Susan J. Wallace Center.

First shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine were received by Government officials and those on the front lines in the fight against Covid-19

By E.J. Rolle

Grand Bahama’s supply of the first dose of vaccine to fight against the Covid-19 virus has finally reached on island.

After so many photos and videos on the television news, in newspapers and on social media with the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, their spouses, Governor General and his wife and so many other government officials in Nassau receiving their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Grand Bahamians now have their share of the much-touted vaccine, that is said to be critical in the Covid-19 fight.

And like in Nassau, where government leaders led the way, in Grand Bahama, government officials and senior officers led the way as the vaccine roll out was launched on Sunday, March 21, 2021 at the Susan J. Wallace Centre.

In fact, Minister of State for Grand Bahama, Kwasi Thompson was the first person to be vaccinated in Grand Bahama. While receiving the shot, Thompson gave a “thumbs-up” signal as a sign of his approval.

SIGN OF APPROVAL – Minister of State for Grand Bahama and for Finance, in the Office of the Prime Minister, Hon. Kwasi Thompson gives a “thumbs up” signal as he received his AstraZeneca vaccination in the fight against Covid-19, on Sunday, March 21, 2021 at the Susan J. Wallace Center. Minister Thompson was the first to receive the vaccination, as the vaccine roll out on Grand Bahama was launched on Sunday.

Asked if he was nervous about receiving the shot, Thompson actually said that he was excited about being the first person to receive the first dose of the vaccine. 

“I’m excited to be the first person to take the vaccine on Grand Bahama, because it really shows us that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, when it comes to Covid-19,” said Thompson, after receiving the shot.

“We’ve been facing this pandemic for over a year and it is a tremendous experience that we now can actually take the vaccine here on the island of Grand Bahama. That really means a lot to us. Covid-19 is one of the main things that has tremendously affected our economy. So, this is a very significant moment for us, because the more people who receive this vaccine as we continue this fight against this virus, the sooner we will be able to fully reopen our country and boost our economy.

“I’m encouraging everyone, when it is your turn to go out and receive the vaccine, not just for yourself, but for your family, for your community and for your country.”

The GB Minister reiterated the sentiments of Dr. Frank Bartlett, Chairman of the Covid-19 Task Force in Grand Bahama, who said now that the vaccine is in Grand Bahama, it is important that Grand Bahamians register in order to receive the first shot of the two-shot vaccination.

“Over the next few days, our goal is to vaccinate hundreds of Grand Bahamians,” said Bartlett. “The thing we must keep in mind is that we must vaccinate maximum amounts of persons as quickly as is possible.

Dr. Bartlett admitted that the response to the registration process for vaccinations has not been ideal. He aid that’s why more education is being carried out in order to teach individuals about the efficacy of the vaccine and why it is important for all individuals who are eligible, to register and receive their vaccinations.

“Here in Grand Bahama, we have gathered and engaged our partners in both the public and private sectors to assist in this education process and in ensuring that those persons who are eligible to sign up and book their appointments to receive their first shot,” said Bartlett.

“The goal is that on any one day at this Center, we have full capacity or near capacity. If on any particular day we notice that the numbers of people registering or those who have registered are not showing up, we have a list of those individuals who have registered and we have people to call those individuals and remind them of their appointments.”

Dr. Bartlett’s comments mirror the anxiety and fear which many people in the Bahamas have towards the vaccine, which was gifted to the Bahamas from India. While there were reservations about receiving any vaccine, no matter where it may originate from, many Bahamians admitted to being weary of the vaccine that came from India.

However, doctors in both Nassau and Grand Bahama, long tried to dispel those fears by reminding Bahamians that the vaccine from India have been approved by the CDC in the United States and by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The few reports about blood clots by some in the Europe who received the AstraZeneca vaccine, only helped to heighten the fear and anxiety which many were feeling about any kind of vaccinations against Covid-19.

However, just last week, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) concluded that the vaccine was safe and effective and was not associate4d with a higher risk of blood clots. “The benefits of the vaccine in combating the still widespread threat of Covid-19 (which itself results in clotting problems and may be fatal) continue to outweigh the risk of side effects,” said the EMA Study.

Director of the National HIV-AIDS and Infectious Disease Program, Dr. Nikkiah Forbes followed up on the EMA’s report, noting that she was happy that there was now a conclusive scientific verdict on the matter. She added that it was her hope that the fallout from the negative news about the vaccine would not be long-lasting.

“Unfortunately, that included European countries and it was raised the last couple of days to a week that it could have been harmful ethically and not a good thing, as countries continue to grapple with their Covid-19 outbreaks and that halting vaccines in the face of huge outbreaks could be something that could worsen outbreaks because of negative fallout,” said Dr. Forbes.

But that high level of hesitation about receiving the vaccine seem to still linger in the back of the minds of many Bahamians. It was something which Dr. Bartlett alluded to, noting that such fears was common. However, he said much of that fear was shrouded in incorrect or very little information.

Speaking about the fact that side effects from any vaccine was obvious, Dr. Bartlett said that many have already made up in their mind to expect some negative and severe side effects long before they actually take the shot.

“All of the vaccines, no matter which brand it is, have possible side effects,” said Dr. Bartlett. “The most common side effect will be soreness at the site of the injection, which should only last a day or two.

“If you see a little redness at the injection site, it doesn’t mean that you go about accusing the vaccine of giving you Covid. It’s just a side effect. Headaches and a little pain has also been identified as a side effect. Some people experience nausea and vomiting, but it’s not as common.

“But it is important to remember that any side effects you may have will occur within the first three or four days of getting the shot. But for the most part, there will be many people who receive this vaccine and have no side effects at all.”

Dr. Bartlett said that it was very important for people to be open and up front about any kind of allergy they may have, no matter how insignificant they may think it to be. He also advised people with serious aliments like cancer, diabetes, lupus and other such disease to first consult their doctor before registering for the vaccine.

A misconception among those who may have received the first dose of the vaccine is that once they received that first shot, they would be immune to the Covid-19 virus. Dr. Bartlett dismissed that myth, noting that seven days after receiving the first shot, individuals are still susceptible to catching the Covid-19 disease. 

“Let me be clear, the vaccination does not contain, nor cause the Covid-19 infection,” Dr. Bartlett added. “But you should still wear your mask, wash your hands regularly during the first seven days or so after receiving the first shot. In fact, until you have received both shots of the vaccine, you should continue to follow all of the safety protocols.”

There has been much discussion on how those who have received both shots of the vaccine react in terms of the health protocols. It seems to be a back and forth conversation for Scientists, doctors and health officials around the world. Some are saying it would be okay to gather with people who have all been vaccinated, without having to wear masks, while other conversations have concluded that further observation of vaccinated individuals needs to continue.

Dr. Katherine O’Brien from the World Health Organization (WHO) recently spoke about what happens after vaccination has taken place. She noted that after the first dose, they have seen a good immune response that kicks in within about two weeks of the first dose.

“It’s really the second dose that then boosts that immune response and we see immunity get even stronger after that second dose, again, within a shorter period of time after the second dose,” explained Dr. O’Brien.

“We don’t know yet how long immunity lasts from the vaccines that we have at hand right now. We’re following people who have received vaccinations to find out whether or not their immune response is durable over time and the length of time for which they’re protected against disease. So, we’re really going to have to wait for time to pass to see just how long these vaccines last.”

In the meantime, while travel is beginning to open up around the world, some countries are still requiring visitors who may have received both shots of vaccination to still take a Covid-19 test. The Bahamas is one of those countries. When that rule will be removed, remains to be seen.

For now, all Bahamians, whether they are planning to travel or not, are being encouraged to register to receive their vaccination shots.