While noting that The Bahamas might experience a spike in COVID-19 cases before it obtains a vaccine, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced last night that Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis, special health advisor to the Office of the Prime Minister, will chair the recently established COVID-19 Vaccine National Consultative Committee.
Dahl-Regis told The Nassau Guardian that the committee will meet tomorrow.
She said committee members include Bishop Delton Fernander, president of the Bahamas Christian Council; Dr. Marcella Elliott-Ferguson, vice president of administrative services at the University of The Bahamas; Stephaine Dean, a retired public health nurse; Dr. Danny Davis, a consultant at the Ministry of Health; Ed Fields, tourism industry veteran; and Keith Cartwright.
In a national address, the prime minister said, “The primary purpose of the committee is to advise the Ministry of Health in support of the National COVID-19 Vaccination Plan.
“This committee is chaired by Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis, OD, CMG and is made up of public health experts and representatives of various sectors, including religious and community leaders,” Minnis said.
“Government officials will report at the appropriate time on the rollout of a vaccine in The Bahamas.”
Minister of Health Renward Wells told reporters on Friday that the government hopes to have a vaccine in the country by the end of the first quarter of 2021.
He did not indicate which vaccine the government hopes to secure.
The Bahamas has been grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic since its first case was confirmed on March 15, 2020. It has confirmed more than 8,000 cases.
The country’s second wave started in July after its borders reopened.
Health officials were challenged with bed capacity following the start of the second wave.
In his address last night, Minnis said the government has “significantly” boosted its contact tracing and lab capacity in order to process COVID-19 tests.
He said the government has provided $20 million in contingency funding to help boost public healthcare facilities “in order to protect and save lives”.
“These funds covered the cost for medical equipment and supplies, ensuring suitable quarantine facilities if needed, and other measures to ensure the country was equipped to combat the spread of the virus,” the prime minister said.
He added that the government has spent $9 million on “major improvements” to Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) and areas of Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre.
He said the Elizabeth Estates Clinic and South Beach Health Centre were upgraded to strengthen capacity for the delivery of urgent care services at the community level.
“The government also boosted the South Beach Health Centre to care for COVID-19 patients,” he said
“Capacity was added to PMH, including a modular unit and treatment and isolation unit, provided by Samaritan’s Purse. On Grand Bahama, $21 million has been allocated for the phased redevelopment of Rand Memorial Hospital.”
Four COVID-19 cases were hospitalized in The Bahamas as of January 11, marking a significant reduction when compared to the 110 cases that were hospitalized three months earlier.
Minnis observed that The Bahamas’ COVID-19 situation “remains generally good at this time”.
“We have had lower case numbers for many weeks,” he said.
“However, we must all remember the pandemic is not over. We must continue to wear our mask, social distance and regularly sanitize. Internationally, more infectious variants of the virus have evolved and been detected. It is possible that cases will rise again before vaccines arrive.
“If this happens, as a government and people, we will have to return to some of the measures that worked, to beat back previous waves. Through our experience during the pandemic year, we now know the formula that works.
“Tough times do not scare us. Difficult circumstances do not break our resolve.”
Minnis said that because there are now successful vaccines for the virus, The Bahamas and its economy are set to reopen “more fully” in the months ahead.
“The end is in sight,” Minnis declared.
“Restrictions will end. We will get back to our way of life. Jobs and the economy are coming back.”