By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE country’s most vulnerable population, including medical workers, will be among the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available, Health Minister Renward Wells said Monday, as he revealed the government will have to pay an initial $2m down payment to secure 80,000 vaccinations.
Speaking during his ministry’s COVID-19 press conference, Mr Wells said the Pan American Health Organisation will secure the vaccines, suggesting it was acting as an intermediary to ensure smaller nations can acquire it as first world countries are in a better financial position to secure them.
“The Pan American Health Organisation is going to secure any potential COVID vaccine for the Bahamas,” Mr Well said when asked about the government’s plan to acquire vaccines.
“The World Health Organisation has required that all countries that would be seeking the COVID-19 vaccine, one that has the capacity to be able to do what we expect it to, that every country put a down payment so to speak to ensure that at least 20 percent of its population (can receive it).
“The Cabinet of the Bahamas has taken a decision to move forward with that.
“We do secure our vaccines through the WHO via PAHO and we’re guaranteed to receive enough vaccines in the first tranche to vaccinate 20 percent of our population, which if you’re looking at 400,000 persons is about 80,000 individuals.
“The overall cost is going to be somewhere in the area of perhaps $2m initially and at the outset what we will do is we will seek to vaccinate those who are most vulnerable — healthcare workers, along those lines.
“But because there is such a demand for a potential COVID vaccine, and you understand that first world countries, because their monies are long and deep, have the capacity to be able to purchase upfront more so, but the World Health Organisation is securing and ensuring that all countries have an opportunity to receive the vaccine and there is a global agreement among all countries that we will receive at least 20 percent initially to secure our populations.”
On Monday officials said confirmed cases in the country now stand at 2,974. Of that number, 1,344 have recovered, with 1,545 cases active. Additionally, 72 of the active cases are in hospital.
The bulk of cases are in New Providence where there have been 2,113 confirmed cases. Grand Bahama follows with 597, Abaco 100, Bimini 54, Exuma 24, Inagua 17, Berry Islands 15, Eleuthera 12 and eight each on Cat Island and Long Island, seven on Acklins, five in Crooked Island, three in Andros, three in Mayaguana and 108 cases with pending locations.
There have been 75 deaths from COVID-19 and eight are under investigation. Of the deaths, 45 or 69 percent were in New Providence, 14 or 22 percent in Grand Bahama and three percent in Bimini. Officials said 130 children or adolescents have tested positive, accounting for four percent of overall cases.
Also at the press conference, Chief Medical Officer Dr Pearl McMillan revealed that in this second wave of COVID-19, there were 27 times more cases than the first round of cases.
Dr McMillan said New Providence now accounts for the largest number of new COVID-19 cases each day, with data showing that cumulative cases continue to reflect increases in the capital.
However, she said, new cases on the island have been on a decline. On average for the last week, Dr McMillan revealed that 40 new cases are being reported in New Providence per day.
“Specifically by island, for New Providence which has the highest population density we had 76 cases in the first wave. At this point in the second wave COVID-19 cases now stand at 1,797, which is almost 24 times more than the total cases seen in the first wave.
“Grand Bahama recorded a total number of eight cases in the first wave. So far for this wave our second city has a total of 603 cases, which is 75 times more than their total cases in the first wave.
“Bimini had four times more total cases in the second wave compared to the first.
“The first wave we confirmed cases only on three of our islands. On the contrary during this wave, COVID-19 has impacted a larger proportion of our Family Islands and cays as referenced on the Ministry of Health’s dashboard.”
She said contact tracing continues, with officials identifying almost 8,000 connections in the second wave.
The ministry continues to retool the process to ensure the shortest possible time between confirmation of a positive test result and notification of a newly diagnosed case, Dr McMillan said.
While there continues to be new cases almost daily, officials have repeatedly touted the success of the latest lockdown in Grand Bahama.
However, asked if officials made the right decision to reopen most businesses in New Providence despite rising cases, Dr McMillan said lockdowns are not sustainable.
“Whether or not we opened everything or just a few things certainly what we require to happen as we move forward is that we follow the necessary public health measures in order to decrease the likelihood of spread.
“I think we often say when we are asked a question like that that public health must always take into consideration other things that are happening in a particular environment and there has to be a balance. We would have had a number of lockdowns, we had curfews, we had a number of very restrictive to minimally restrictive measures put in place early on and we did fairly well.
“Doing those things indefinitely is not sustainable so we have to balance the public health measures alongside the economic and the social measures and challenges that come along with the lockdowns,” Dr McMillan said.