Vaccine rollout questions

The first phase of COVID-19 vaccinations commenced this week and the rollout has triggered several questions.

Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) Administrator Mary Walker said this week that PMH is aiming to vaccinate at least 120 individuals per day, with Doctors Hospital subsequently advising that it would be assisting government with the vaccination exercise.

COVID-19 Vaccine Consultative Committee Deputy Chairman Ed Fields provided estimates yesterday of potential vaccination capacity once additional doses are secured, but no announcements have been made on when inoculations will be provided for islands outside of New Providence and Grand Bahama.

We question why government did not at the outset, direct its COVID-19 vaccination rollout to the National Health Insurance network and to private healthcare facilities nationwide, so as to expand access and boost the effectiveness of the process.

On the occasion of the arrival of the country’s first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines donated by India, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis stressed that the vaccine rollout would be “totally transparent” so that the World Health Organization and other groups would see that situations such as persons “jumping the line”, would not occur.

The first tranche of vaccinations was initially reserved for public and private sector healthcare workers and nursing homes, but the process was opened yesterday to members of the general public age 65 and older, who were invited to register for an appointment to access the vaccine.

We understand that members of the government’s parliamentary caucus were advised that those falling within that age group could proceed to Loyola Hall yesterday where they would receive their vaccine, though a system of registration exists for the process.

Government parliamentarians age 65 and older should submit to the same registration process that must be followed by their constituents in the same high-risk age category.

Though often engaging in pandemic privileges the public cannot enjoy, televised proceedings of both the House and Senate now regularly feature parliamentarians who cast safety to the wind, returning to seating that violates social distancing protocols set out in emergency orders.

MPs are also part of large groupings of door-to-door campaigners, flouting orders limiting the size of public gatherings, and sending what has been a recurrent message over the year of the pandemic response, that the administration’s politicians are superior to the general public.

The most potent threat to global vaccination campaigns is the existence of COVID-19 variants, and a report has not yet been provided on the analysis of local samples sent to Brazil, to determine whether any of the established variants are present in-country. 

Recent studies indicate that the UK variant detected in over 50 countries, is 67 percent deadlier than the original virus, and that Brazil’s P.1 variant detected in over 20 countries is more than two times more infectious than previous variants in the country, according to a March 17 report by Reuters.

The UK variant is thought to be responsible for a recent explosion of cases in Jamaica.

Two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were found to only have a 10.5 percent efficacy against the South African variant, according to a phase 1b-2 clinical trial published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It is, however, showing promising protection against the UK variant, with phase II/III trials showing a vaccine efficacy of 74.9 percent, according to a pre-print with The Lancet.

As the vaccination process continues, it is important for officials to resist the urge to begin a counterproductive boxing of residents into categories of being either pro-vaxxers or anti-vaxxers.

Since vaccination is required for all children enrolled in public and private schools, one might be hard pressed to find parents who fit the definition of being an anti-vaxxer, and views on a single category of vaccine do not relegate individuals into such categories in any event.

Adequately addressing local vaccine hesitancy requires an accurate understanding of resident concerns.

And for those who have no reservations about being vaccinated, broad nationwide access must be provided and assured.

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