FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
19 December 2020
After months of vaccine trials, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and now Moderna are the first to be given emergency approval in the UK, the USA and other countries around the world for the sale and distribution of their COVID-19 vaccines. As a result, well-coordinated immunization programs are currently being implemented worldwide and thousands of people are coming forward for inoculation. The Bahamas should be no different.
Our task force waited weeks to hear the government enunciate its position on the inoculation of COVID-19 vaccines in the country after being advised by PAHO’s regional office of its intention to assist small countries like The Bahamas in sourcing reliable vaccines and support medical assistance for our public health care system.
We understand that to-date a down payment of 250,000 dollars have been made by the Bahamas government to acquire some 80,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to be sourced by PAHO as soon as it becomes available. While the down payment has been made, the government has yet to confirm which vaccine will be sourced. We are hearing whispers that it may be the Astra Zeneca vaccine produced by scientists from Oxford University which is still in the final stages of trials and not approved for use at this time.
While efforts are underway by the government to source the vaccine, they have not communicated a time line for the distribution of the vaccine. They have also not yet disclosed their policy position as to whether the general public will be required to pay a fee for the two dose vaccines or whether they will be administered free of charge to every Bahamian who may wish to take them.
The government has also not yet clarified whether the private medical community will have to source vaccines exclusively from the Ministry of Health or would be able to source any of the vaccines from reputable sources around the world. There is also the issue of the possibility of counterfeit vaccines entering the country. How does the government intend to police this possibility?
We support the Ministry of Health’s position that the choice of the vaccines used in country must be safe and cost effective.
After much review of the medical journals and peer reviews on the ongoing vaccine trials, our task force supports a robust, well-coordinated emergency COVID-19 immunization program in the country that prioritizes all high-risk Bahamians particularly the elderly, patients with co-morbidities and those with compromised immune systems.
Taking into consideration that the short-term side effects to all the approved COVID19 vaccines appear to be minimal, we must be mindful that these vaccines were produced in record time using new medical technologies and the potential for long-term complications if any is still unknown.
We are very optimistic about the possibility of reaching herd immunity in our country and understand fully what that would mean for our tourism sector and the resurgence of our local economy. But with little scientific data about the possible long term complications, it is imperative that the Minister of Health put in place safety protocols and the implementation of these recommended protocols must be of paramount concern to all medical professionals within the country.
These protocols and policies must remain fluid and be constantly reviewed by representatives from the Ministry of Health as more information from research scientists and the international community becomes available.
Our Task Force therefore offers the following recommendations regarding the immunization program for COVID-19 for consideration by the government:
1. We support the prioritized access to the vaccine by the elderly and all high-risk groups within the country. Other prioritized groups should include healthcare workers, frontline workers in the tourism industry and the uniform branches of the government (police, defence force, immigration, corrections and customs officers).
2. Inoculation against COVID-19 must be voluntary and accessible to every Bahamian.
3. The vaccine should be free and every vaccinated person should be allowed access free medical follow up via NHI and the public healthcare system across the country.
4. A medical research facility with a team of medical experts must be established immediately in conjunction with the local chapter of the University of The West Indies Faculty of Medical Science and the University of The Bahamas funded by the government to follow a proper sample size of patients vaccinated for at least five years and those who develop Bell’s Palsy or anaphylactic complications as a direct result of immunization must have access to emergency health services.
5. The government should establish clear guidelines for the acquisition and storage of the vaccines and protocols for confirming the authenticity of any COVID-19 vaccine to be distributed in the country.
Finally, the Ministry of Health in conjunction with the Ministry of Education must establish a well-coordinated educational program with a view to removing all fears and misinformation associated the COVID-19 vaccines so that Bahamians everywhere can make an informed decision about taking the vaccine when it becomes available in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.