A bottle of the AstraZeneca vaccine is displayed in London. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Family Island Chambers of Commerce presidents yesterday said becoming vaccinated against COVID-19 is “a must” for all Bahamians and residents if the economy is to ever rebound from the pandemic.
Pedro Rolle, the Exuma Chamber chief, told Tribune Business that the vaccination roll-out’s start across the Family Islands was “a pretty big deal” as it finally offered their populations hope that there is an exit route from the devastation inflicted by the virus.
Arguing that tourists and second homeowners will have “greater confidence” to visit Exuma and other Bahamian islands if they know a significant percentage of the population is vaccinated, Mr Rolle asserted that too many persons lack “the discipline” to maintain the COVID-19 health protocols for too much longer.’
Voicing concern over the recent surge of COVID-19 cases on New Providence, in particular, given that he and other Exuma residents travel here frequently, he told this newspaper of the vaccination drive: “This is a must. I really do feel that way. If we don’t do it I think the impact both economically and otherwise will be great. We have to do this.
“Our folks don’t have the discipline. What are we going to do? Wear masks and self-isolate for the next year or two or three? It will not work. I think this is the Government’s only option. The only option. It’s critical. It’s a pretty big deal. This is it. We need to push it as much as we can, and from the Chamber’s point of view we’ll encourage people to get the vaccine.”
Mr Rolle said Exuma residents are “not always sure” how many COVID-19 cases are actually present on the island given the belief that there is insufficient testing of residents. “We don’t know what level of exposure we have in Exuma,” he asserted.
“People are not travelling and not getting tested. Some people may be asymptomatic, while others think it is just flu. This [the vaccinations] gives us a greater level of certainty, confidence. If we can get people vaccinated we will feel better where we are as an island.
“The impact will be great, and psychologically folks coming in from wherever, if they know the people in Exuma are being vaccinated and we have a good roll-out, they will come here with greater confidence,” Mr Rolle continued. “There is every indication that they want to come, and I can only imagine that if there’s a greater sense of confidence more folks will come.
“The only challenge is I don’t know what plan the Ministry of Health has to address misconceptions. There is a great segment of our population that has tremendous scepticism about the vaccine. It’s big, it’s there and comes up as a topic for discussion. If ten people are in the group, two to three are sceptical about it.”
With Sandals Emerald Bay having re-opened recently, Mr Rolle said: “There seems to be a sense that things are getting back to some semblance of normalcy. More and more people are getting re-employed.
“But the increase in cases, especially on New Providence, concerns us because we still have people travelling between Nassau and Exuma. Because of the lack of testing, there is no way for us to know the extent to which we’re exposed. It’s a great concern for people like me because I am moving back and forth all the time.”
Thomas Sands, the Eleuthera Chamber of Commerce’s president, said that based on advice from medical professionals and his review of available information he will take the COVID-19 vaccine. He added that his decision had been taken on the basis that it will “limit the permanent health risk” and potential spread of the virus.
“The feedback I have received from investors and visitors is that a vaccine programme is seen worldwide as one of the critical tools in fighting COVID-19 and restarting economies,” Mr Sands told Tribune Business.
“We definitely need our economy restarted. Consistently moving along the path of uncertainty is unsustainable. Through my engagement with tourists, vacation homeowners and vacation renters, the execution of a vaccine programme in their home countries provided them with some sense of security and impacted their decision to travel to The Bahamas, which they perceive to be safe.
“It would also appear that the effective execution of a vaccine programme within The Bahamas would continue to build confidence that The Bahamas is safe to visit.” Mr Sands acknowledged that there was “definitely some vaccine hesitancy on many levels” among Bahamians, while calling for “innovative business-related revitalisation/recovery programmes” to be developed for the Family Islands.