By E.J. Rolle
The Bahamas is expected to receive its first batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine by Wednesday (March 10), which will consist of 20,000 doses, donated by the Government of India, according to Prime Minister, Dr. Hubert Minnis.
The Prime Minister gave a National Address on Sunday, March 7, 2021, to give an update on the arrival and roll out of the critical supply of Covid-19 vaccine. The address came in light of the criticism the government has been receiving over the past few days, after the time line of the arrival of the vaccine has been changed a number of times.
During his address on Sunday, Dr. Minnis admitted that the first batches were expected to arrive in the country over the weekend, but noted that due to logistical issues overseas, the vaccine’s arrival had been delayed.
“On behalf of the people and Government of The Bahamas, I thank the Government of India for its generous assistance,” said Dr. Minnis. “The vaccines were pre-qualified by the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) and received Emergency Use Listing (EUL) approval by the W.H.O. The vaccines have also received certification from the Caribbean Regulatory System (CRS).
“The procedures used in the W.H.O./EUL approval process are rigorous and are aimed at ensuring the utmost safety and efficacy of the vaccine. As I have previously stated: The Bahamas will only accept vaccines that are pre-qualified for use by the W.H.O. and have received EUL and Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) approvals.”
The Prime Minister pointed out that the vaccines will be stored at the National Immunization Cold Storage Facility in New Providence and transferred to other islands as required. He said the state-of-the-art cold storage facility is a secure, temperature-controlled, clean and protected environment. The temperature of the facility can be monitored remotely and the facility has a back-up generator supply. Fallback facilities have also been identified.
The PM said the national storage facility has the capacity to safely store hundreds of thousands of vaccines. To ensure maximum security, it will be under 24-hour guard by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.
“The rollout of the first 20,000 doses is expected to begin days after the arrival of the vaccine,” said Dr. Minnis. “Because we are receiving the vaccine doses in smaller batches, we will deviate from the original plan slightly. Those eligible to receive these first doses will be; healthcare workers in the public and private sectors; residents and staff of eldercare homes; and non-ambulatory residents registered in the public health system.
“This first and critical priority group includes those who are our first line of defense against the COVID-19 virus and those among the most vulnerable in our population. It is expected that healthcare workers may begin booking their vaccination appointments online within days of the arrival of the vaccine. Details on how the appointment process will work will be published within the next few days.
“Healthcare workers will be vaccinated on-site at their respective institutions. Residents and staff of eldercare homes and the registered non-ambulatory will not be required to make an appointment. Mobile units will be used to vaccinate residents and staff of eldercare homes and the non-ambulatory on-site, on New Providence and Grand Bahama.
“On the Family Islands, medical teams will administer vaccines to healthcare staff on the island and at eldercare homes and to the non-ambulatory.”
Additionally, the Prime Minister informed the nation that the government has received a commitment from the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) that through the COVAX Facility, The Bahamas will receive 33,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine before the end of March. He added that these doses are part of the 100,800 doses which were announced last month and secured through the Bahamas’ prepayment to the COVAX Facility.
He said they have been informed that the remaining 64,200 doses through COVAX are expected to arrive in The Bahamas by the end of May 2021.
In his push to get all Bahamians to take the vaccine once it arrives in the country, the Prime Minister noted that vaccines are in extreme demand globally and are difficult to secure. He further pointed out that vaccines are designed to teach the body’s immune system to safely recognize and block a virus that causes a disease. The AstraZeneca vaccine is a viral vector vaccine.
“This means that the virus has been altered so that it behaves like the COVID-19 virus, but does not cause the disease,” Dr. Minnis explained. “The AstraZeneca vaccine is administered in two doses. Like other vaccines, side effects observed included mild pain and tenderness at the injection site, fatigue and mild fever. These are very common side effects of vaccines and is a sign that the body is building immunity.
“As with any vaccine, serious side effects are possible but extremely rare. According to medical literature, no one who received the AstraZeneca vaccine was hospitalized or became seriously ill due to COVID-19. Millions of people have already received the AstraZeneca vaccine globally. We know from the results that this vaccine will save lives.
“As we have said repeatedly, the vaccine is not mandatory. But I urge everyone to take the vaccine as soon as you are eligible to do so. Vaccines save millions of lives every year around the world. It is important that all eligible Bahamians and residents come forward and take the vaccine. Let me say again that the COVID-19 vaccines we will use in The Bahamas are safe.”
As far as when Emergency measures can expect to be loosen even more, the Prime Minister simply announced, “the pandemic is not over.
“As leaders around the world know, we cannot just get rid of all the health measures in one swoop. We cannot just get rid of the curfew in New Providence as the Leader of the Opposition recently suggested. If we stop being careful, the virus will spread more, and more people will get sick and die. Several of our Caribbean neighbors are currently having a difficult time with the virus. They have significant spread. Cases have gone up.
“Our path out of the emergency phase of the pandemic is twofold. First, we must maintain our public health practices. Second, we must vaccinate our population.”
The Prime Minister urged that Health officials and the Consultative Committee will continue to provide regular updates on the continued roll out of the vaccine.