As the third wave of COVID-19 continues to present challenges to The Bahamas’ healthcare system, more than 120 Biminites traveled to Florida yesterday free of charge on the Balearia to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Dr. Pamela Mills, who helped spearhead the community effort, said the ship left just after 11 a.m. and was scheduled to return yesterday evening.
“The ship should have sailed last Wednesday but [we] had a few logistics that had to be worked out … quite a few things had to be done on the ground in order to get visas waived, health visas, and all the things persons normally would do to go into the United States,” she said.
“When it was said and done, after putting a team together on the ground in Bimini … we were able to get the word out; persons came and got registered who were interested.
“The numbers fluctuated a bit because we were not certain when the ship would sail, but when it was announced that the ship would sail on Wednesday of this week, we continued to register.
“Ironically, up to last night, we had over 200 persons scheduled to travel. Realistically, only 121 traveled for the vaccine. A total of 133 traveled, but the additional 12 are our team members on the ground who went to keep the records and make sure everything goes well, inclusive of a small team out of Nassau.”
Bimini residents are now subject to stringent restrictions as a result of a surge in COVID-19 cases, the most recent to affect the small community since the pandemic took hold of The Bahamas.
After months of low numbers, Bimini recorded 53 new COVID cases in the past three weeks.
In response to the initial uptick, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis implemented a 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew on Bimini, along with the reintroduction of a number of restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
Mills said it is hoped that the move will help stem the spread of COVID on the island.
She said 15 people who originally registered for the trip were declined by US Customs and Border Protection, while she believes that recent reports of adverse side effects of the vaccine may have discouraged others who had registered from traveling.
However, Mills said Balearia is willing to conduct another trip, and the team is working to encourage more people on Bimini to take advantage of the opportunity.
“It was a very good feeling to hear my ground members saying how elated they were that this number of persons were able to sign up and go,” she said.
“There should be another boat on Friday, and so we’re trying to gather numbers for that.
“This one, I want to see more people, if possible, because we still have quite a few people in Bimini who have not been vaccinated.
“So, there is another day that Baleria is willing to sail, and again, we just have to look at the numbers and see how that is going.
“And the intention is to get into Miami, get Johnson & Johnson.”
She added, “With the new variant out there, folks need to get serious about this thing. This is serious, and numbers all over the world are beginning to spike again. That’s not a fun thing.
“I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I’m tired of all of this. So, I will just do my best to encourage more of the Biminites to come aboard and let’s see if we can get this done and take advantage of the fact that Baleria is willing to do it.”
As of July 2, 97,992 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered in The Bahamas, according to officials.
The Bahamas has received 92,200 doses of AstraZeneca – 20,000 of those doses were donated by the Indian government, 5,000 borrowed from Antigua and Barbuda and the remaining were secured through the COVAX Facility.
At last report, there was a limited supply of COVID vaccines in the country.
The Bahamas is still awaiting its third shipment from COVAX, consisting of 32,600 doses. Initially scheduled to arrive in June, the shipment has been pushed back to the end of July.
Minister of Health Renward Wells said on Tuesday that 57,330 doses of Pfizer from the COVAX Facility are also expected in the country before October.