By E.J. Rolle
Prime Minister, Dr. Hubert Minnis is convinced that the continual emergency measures and rules have helped buy the country time in the race to get the Bahamian people vaccinated.
During a National Address on Sunday afternoon (February 21, 2021), the Prime Minister spent a lot of time focused on vaccines and the necessity of getting the vaccine. While it was initially announced that the Bahamian government would be in possession of the vaccine by the end of this month, on Sunday, the Prime Minister announced that a meeting would be held the following Monday (February 22) to discuss and finalize plans to obtain the much talked about vaccines.
“Vaccines are critical to ending the pandemic,” Dr. Minnis said in his address. “In the Bahamas, there will not be a government mandate requiring Bahamians to take the vaccine. However, we strongly urge all who are eligible to get vaccinated.
“I will take the vaccine. I will urge family and friends to take the vaccine. By getting vaccinated, you will help the country to return to a greater level of normalcy. By getting vaccinated, you will also help our economy to recover faster. When a large percentage of Bahamians are vaccinated, we will be able to responsibly open up even more.”
Dr. Minnis added that more economic activity will be possible, leading to more jobs, more working hours, more family income, more small business activity and a return of more tourists in the months ahead.
He noted that it is also quite possible that being vaccinated will be a requirement by other countries for Bahamians to travel overseas.
“Other countries may not allow you to enter their borders unless you have proof of vaccination,” the Prime Minister said. “We are hearing that cruise lines may require their passengers to show that they have been vaccinated.
“Proof of vaccination may be one of the critical measures in helping the tourism industry to bounce back around the world. As a leading tourist destination, we must okay our part and set an example for the world.”
Continuing his push of the importance of having as many Bahamians as possible receive the vaccine, the Prime Minister said that the distribution and administration of the Covid-19 vaccine will be a huge operational and logistical challenge. Adding that it will be one of the most complex challenges ever faced by the public health care sector.
He recalled a comment once made by Dr.Merceline Dahl-Regis, in which she noted that the Bahamas demonstrated a strategy to eliminate congenial rubella, using a mass immunization campaign, back in 1998.
The Prime Minister is hoping to deploy the same strategy to fully vaccinate the entire Bahamian population. In fact, he pointed out that individuals who worked on the team in 1998 will be assisting with the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine in 2021.
Outlining an update of the Bahamas’ vaccination plans and strategy, the Prime Minister reported that the Covid-19 vaccine distribution plan is in the final stages of completion, in preparation for the arrival of the first batch of the AstraZeneca vaccines.
“These covid-19 vaccines will be available free of charge,” he said. “Between eight and ten approved vaccination sites have been identified on New Providence. This includes drive-through sites. Vaccination sites have also been identified on Grand Bahama and the Family Islands.
“Health officials and the National Covid-19 Vaccine Consultative Committee are looking at additional platforms to distribute the vaccine in order to increase access to and ensure equity of distribution to all communities. There will be a focus on high risk populations where Covid-19 has occurred.
“Mobile units will be used to safely distribute vaccines to vulnerable populations in their communities. Vaccine appointment software is very near completion and is expected to be rolled out in advance of distribution.
“This will allow those who choose to take the vaccine to schedule their appointments digitally on their smartphones, tablets or computer. For those without access to the internet or a device, appointment centers will be set up to provide assistance with making appointments to receive the vaccine.”
According to Dr. Minnis, among the first priority groups eligible to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in New Providence and Grand Bahama include; healthcare workers, people over the age of 65, uniformed branch members, frontline workers, critical workers in high-risk settings and other essential service workers.
On the Family Islands, local medical teams will be assisted by mobile teams from New Providence. Also on the Family Islands, health teams will vaccinate all eligible residents who choose to take the vaccine at the same time.
The Prime Minister said the United States Embassy has offered to assist with air transportation to the Family Islands during the vaccine rollout, with special emphasis on smaller islands and cays.
“On Monday, February 22, we expect to receive more details related to the shipment of the 100,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that have been secured through the COVAX facility,” said Dr. Minnis.
“Additionally, the Bahamas Government has also been able to secure a commitment from the government of India for a small quantity of AstraZeneca vaccines from a WHO/Emergency Use Listing (EUL) approved manufacturer in India. The Government continues to work on all fronts to secure additional approved vaccines for the Bahamas.
“As we have stated before, the government will only accept Covid-19 vaccines that are pre-qualified for use by the World Health Organization and approved by stringent regulatory authorities. The vaccines must have high safety and efficacy records.”
Minnis pointed out that where vaccines have been used, there have been decreased hospitalizations and deaths. Worldwide, he noted, with more than 190 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have already been administered, getting vaccinated is one of the ways to protect from the virus, including the new variants of Covid-19.
Even as he pushed the need for getting vaccinated, the Prime Minister warned that now is not the time for Bahamians to let their guards down when it came to Covid-19. He pointed out that the pandemic is still among us.
“Even as we race to begin vaccinations, we must continue to abide by the health care measures that helped us in the pandemic over the past year,” he said. “Health officials continue to closely monitor the viral patterns present in the Bahamas, particularly among travel-related/imported cases of Covid-19.
“Let us try to avoid another surge. Another surge would be detrimental to public health and our economy. Please continue to wear your masks, avoid huge gatherings, keep at least a six foot distance from others, wash your hands frequently and stay at home if you are not feeling well.”