DR Merceline Dahl-Regis pictured yesterday.
Photo: Donovan McIntosh/Tribune Staff
By EARYEL BOWLEG
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE chairperson of the National COVID-19 Vaccine Consultative Committee has responded to health professionals’ concerns surrounding the removal of the PCR testing requirement for fully vaccinated travellers to The Bahamas, saying the government is relying on the latest science.
Last week, the president of the Bahamas Nurses Union said the group disagrees with the plans to remove the COVID-19 testing requirement for fully vaccinated travellers, believing there is no guarantee people won’t contract or spread the virus even after receiving two doses of the vaccine.
The Consultant Physicians Staff Association has also expressed concerns about the move.
When asked about health professionals’ worries, Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis, the committee’s chair, said while the research is ongoing, if fully vaccinated people do transmit the virus, it does not produce significant illness.
“The committee is reviewing the transmissibility,” she said. “Are you able to transmit the virus after you’ve been fully vaccinated? That is the only discussion we need to have and how long after you’re fully vaccinated, do you need any testing? Now, the new guidelines, CDC guidelines. . .(say) that once you’re fully vaccinated, you are protected. Further to that, the transmissibility of the virus, they haven’t documented that it doesn’t occur, but it does not produce significant illness.
“So you have the situation where someone who’s been vaccinated and they would have a breakthrough, we call it a breakthrough (infection), so we look at the timing of that and it hasn’t occurred to the extent two weeks after you’ve been fully vaccinated, but we’re being guided. The story is still being written. The research is ongoing and there’s no final chapter with COVID.”
Effective on May 1, fully vaccinated people can travel to The Bahamas without a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test, after a two-week immunity period.
Fully vaccinated travellers within the country will be exempt from the testing requirements when travelling to and from New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco, Exuma and Eleuthera.
Vaccinated people will also get other benefits, like participating in indoor dining.
Dr Dahl-Regis also responded to concerns some health professionals still have about the vaccine. She said the scientific output is being monitored every day, but highlighted some differences in the recommendation regarding second doses.
She said: “Yesterday we had the publication, an updated publication from the WHO….We also get reports that come from the regulatory authority and we get reports that come from the manufacturer… Sometimes there’s a difference.”
“Example, the manufacturer of AstraZeneca recommends that you can start your second dose as early as four weeks. The WHO says eight to 12 weeks and so yesterday there was a discussion and the reason the WHO suggested later because the research that they’re doing, their groups are doing, show that your ability to fight the infection, the amount of immunoglobulins you produce, increases longer the period of time and they felt because of that they would recommend eight to 12, but the manufacturer is now saying that even at four weeks out you still have significant protection. So the committee then has to make the discussion based on that.”
She spoke on the sidelines of a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis and US Chargé d’Affaires Usha E Pitts at Odyssey Aviation yesterday to send off the first doses of vaccines to the Family Islands.
While she could not give specific numbers, Dr Dahl-Regis said there has been a “steady uptick with appointment making” recently.
The committee’s deputy chair, Ed Fields added “basically every island” will be getting vaccinations this week. Only Abaco and Grand Bahama were not included in this round of shipments as he noted they have been taken care of recently.
To make an appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccine visit vax.gov.bs. To view the full Family Island schedule, including vaccination site locations and times, visit opm.gov.bs.