Declaring that the distribution and administration of the COVID-19 vaccine will be one of the most complex challenges ever faced by the public health sector in The Bahamas, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis yesterday urged Bahamians to take it when their turn comes, and added that The Bahamas will be able to “responsibly open up” once a large percentage of Bahamians are vaccinated.
“The distribution and administration of the COVID-19 vaccine will be a huge operational and logistical challenge,” said Minnis in a nationally televised address.
The prime minister did not say exactly when the vaccines will arrive in country, but advised that the government expects to receive more details today related to the shipment of 100,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that have been secured through the COVAX Facility.
Officials previously said the vaccine will be in country by the end of March.
Minnis also advised that the government has been able to secure a
commitment from the government of India for a small quantity of AstraZeneca vaccines from a manufacturer in India, which has been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“As we have said previously, 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,” he said.
“The vaccines must have high safety and efficacy records. Where vaccines have been used there have been decreased hospitalizations and deaths.”
The prime minister reported that the National COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan is in the “final stages of completion” in preparation for the arrival of the first batch of the vaccine.
The AstraZeneca vaccine will be administered in two doses and will be free of charge, the prime minister noted.
“Between eight and 10 approved vaccination sites have been identified on New Providence,” Minnis said.
“This includes drive-thru 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.”
The prime minister also informed that vaccine appointment software is “very near completion” and is expected to be rolled out in advance of distribution.
Minnis said this will allow individuals who choose to take the vaccine to schedule their appointments digitally.
“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,” he said.
“Among the first priority groups eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on New Providence and Grand Bahama are 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. On the Family Islands, health teams will vaccinate all eligible residents who choose to take the vaccine at the same time.”
He said the schedule will not follow the prioritized group roll out.
“It is important that all eligible residents who choose to take the vaccine make their appointments once the dates are announced,” Minnis said.
“The United States Embassy has offered to assist with air transportation to the Family Islands during the vaccine roll out, especially to our smaller islands and cays. The consultative committee and health officials will continue to provide regular updates as plans are finalized.”
As he encouraged Bahamians to get vaccinated, the prime minister again advised that he intends to get vaccinated too.
“I will urge family and friends to take the vaccine,” he added. “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. 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.”
Minnis also noted it is “quite possible” that COVID vaccinations will be a requirement for travel to other countries.
He said cruise lines might also require that passengers show proof of vaccination.
“Proof of vaccination may be one of the critical measures in helping the tourism industry to bounce back around the world,” Minnis said.
“As a leading tourism destination, we must play our part and set an example for the world.”
The prime minister noted that the vaccines are safe and already being administered globally.
He advised Bahamians to get information about vaccines from “reliable” local and international scientific and media sources.
“Do not read or listen to random, unsourced material from people you do not know,” Minnis said.
“Do not listen to random videos random people created. Do not read and believe random posts from people with no medical or scientific credentials. Malicious actors are deliberately creating and circulating lies and foolishness designed to scare you from taking vaccines.
“These lies and misinformation are dangerous. They create unnecessary doubt and fear, causing some to reject vaccines and others to delay taking them.”
He warned that COVID-19 remains a killer.
“As a doctor, let me say that not taking or delaying taking a safe vaccine could cost you your life or cause you to get very sick,” Minnis said.
He said the approved vaccines are effective in helping to prevent severe illness and death.
“Do not put your life at risk because you believed fake news on social media,” he said.