From May: The first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. (Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File)
By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
AS the United Kingdom became the world’s first country to authorise use of a COVID-19 vaccine, Minister of Health Renward Wells said the government is still determining which brand it will secure.
This comes as questions persist about health officials’ plan for storage and distribution of the high maintenance drug.
Yesterday, Mr Wells told reporters he would like to avoid the expensive route that involves the purchase of special cold storage freezers.
“As you know you have to keep it (the Pfizer vaccine) in negative 90 degrees F, which is excessively cold. So we were looking to purchase freezers if we go the route of Pfizer, if we go the route of Moderna, which doesn’t need that kind of freezer equipment, obviously it would be less expensive for the Bahamian people.
“We’re looking to secure vaccines immediately,” he added.
Addressing its weekly COVID-19 webinar, PAHO assistant director Dr Jarbas Barbosa said The Bahamas can have access to the COVID-19 vaccinations between March and April of 2021. He also said though the production of the vaccine seems quick, PAHO is of the opinion that it will be effective against the virus.
Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its partner BioNTech released the final analysis of the vaccine the companies generated and found it to be 95 percent effective, which is a significant improvement over the 90 percent effectiveness shown in an interim analysis earlier.
Pfizer’s promising COVID-19 vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees F) .
Reuters reports that these frigid requirements “pose a particularly daunting challenge for countries in Asia, as well as in places like Africa and Latin America, where intense heat is often compounded by poor infrastructure that will make it difficult to keep the ‘cold chain’ intact during deliveries to rural areas and islands.”
Moderna’s vaccine, however, needs to be frozen only at minus 20 Celsius (-4 degrees F), about the temperature of a regular freezer.
The Tribune asked Dr Delon Brennen, deputy medical chief medical officer, how the country was preparing to receive the COVID vaccine, how and where medicine will be stored, and if special freezers would be purchased, etc.
Dr Brennen, who is said to have direct oversight of arranging logistics for the vaccine as far as The Bahamas is concerned, said a committee has been appointed to do the same.
“There is a national committee that has been formed to finalise those details,” Dr Brennen, who is working remotely from the United States, said. “The committee has not formally met yet, so no one can answer those questions yet.”
Last week, Mr Wells said the government has made a down payment for 80,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine—when one becomes available. At the time, he said the country is aiming to vaccinate 20 percent of the population initially.
He also revealed that his ministry has already drafted a “fully functional, laid out vaccination plan” developed over the past two months.
Yesterday, he said the government has the right to purchase more doses than the initial 80,000.
“We have the right to purchase vaccines beyond that 80,000 doses from any of the other companies, so it’s not just going to be 80,000 doses. The Oxford vaccine is somewhere around two (British) pounds which is somewhere around $4 per dose. . .,” he said.
Pfizer has formally submitted a request to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to authorise its COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. The FDA plans to meet on December 10 to discuss approval for the Pfizer vaccine.
Moderna, also seeks permission for emergency use. The FDA will meet again on December 17 to discuss Moderna’s request.
PAHO has said the vaccine is expected to be quite pricey, but the organisation is committed to seeing that all countries in the region receive the drug.