By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
AS the United Kingdom became the first nation to start to vaccinate its citizens against COVID-19 yesterday, Health Minister Renward Wells said the government is currently engaged in its own talks with several vaccine producers.
He said Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis is “leading the charge” on those discussions and added the government will not import any vaccine that will put people at risk.
He reiterated that the Bahamas remains on the “queue” to receive 80,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine whenever it becomes available, which the government has already made a $250,000 down payment towards.
“The total cost is going to be about $1.6 million,” he said. “We’ve already paid $250,000 of that and so we’re just waiting for the WHO (World Health Organisation) to approve whether it’s Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, I think the Chinese have about two vaccines out, the Russians have about two and a number of other countries such as Israel and other nations in Europe are developing vaccines as well, and whichever that WHO agrees to, that’s the one that we’re going to be using.”
He added: “But, the Bahamas is also in negotiations directly with the various known brands of vaccines that are being developed such as Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca. We’re speaking to them directly. We haven’t reached out to them directly. Interestingly enough, they’ve reached out to us and we’re doing our due diligence as a nation and the Prime Minister is actually leading the charge on that. “
Mr Wells said while officials want Bahamians to take the vaccine, no one will be forced to do so. He also said the vaccine will be safe.
“You would’ve heard the prime minister say on Sunday that whatever vaccine we do get, he’ll be first in line to take the shot and so we want the Bahamian people to know whenever it is we secure and procure the vaccine, we want them to take it,” he stressed.
“We’re not going to be bringing anything in that’s going to have a deleterious effect on our people. We are not going to do (that) and also, we are not going to force a vaccine on anyone…That is the policy position the government has held with all of its vaccines.”
Yesterday, the UK became the first nation to begin vaccinating its citizens with a fully vetted and authorised Covid-19 shot, CNN reported.
The first Briton to get the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was 90-year-old Margaret Keenan. She received the first of two doses less than a week after the UK became the first country to approve use of the drug.
PAHO assistant director Dr Jarbas Barbosa has previously said the Bahamas can have access to the COVID-19 vaccinations between March and April of 2021.
Asked if the vaccinations will be made freely available to anyone who wants it, Mr Wells replied: “The vaccines in country now are all free of charge…I would like to say that based on the policy, the established policy of the government that we will continue with that free of charge seeing that we would’ve already spent the money and what it means for us as a country that we need to get our people vaccinated so that we can open up in the economy and move in that direction.”
Pfizer has formally submitted a request to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to authorise its COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use.
An analysis released by the FDA yesterday morning stated there were no safety concerns found to stop approval for vaccines. However, the FDA said it plans to meet tomorrow to make a formal decision for the Pfizer vaccine.
Moderna, also seeks permission for emergency use. The FDA will meet again on December 17 to discuss Moderna’s request.
Yesterday, Mr Wells said his ministry has already developed a strategic plan to distribute the vaccine in the Bahamas.
“The Ministry of Health developed that strategy whether it’s Pfizer or Moderna,” he told reporters. “If it is Pfizer, the $1.6 (million) is simply just getting the vaccine. We have to put out probably an additional the overall plan I think calls for about somewhere in the area of maybe $4.5 million dollars because we’re going to need to be able to purchase the freezer equipment because you have to keep Pfizer vaccine at negative 80 degrees.”
He continued: “…We are also looking with the Ministry of Works to be able to source the kind of equipment because we’re going to need to store it in country so we need to be able to get the kind of freezer so the engineers that the Ministry of Works are working on the HVAC – the heating ventilation air conditioning system – that will be necessary to hold that kind of vaccine.
“But that’s just the larger freezer and we’re going to need the smaller ones to transport it to all the various islands and we’re attending once we get the vaccine to be able to deploy it to all the islands at the same time quickly so we’re going to need freezers for all of our population centres. We’re going to need to fly it out. Obviously, we need to be able to rent aircraft to do that and this is part of the plan.”