By FARRAH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE National COVID-19 Vaccine Consultative Committee is seeking to fully vaccinate 60,000 Bahamians and residents over the next six weeks, with the addition of the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
During a press conference yesterday, Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis, the chairperson of the committee, said with the nation’s current supplies, in addition to the vaccines that are in the “pipeline”, they now have the opportunity to “significantly accelerate” their vaccination programme.
Last week, the Bahamas received its first batch of the Pfizer vaccine from the United States. After receiving over 30,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this month, the country is also expected to receive 38,400 doses of the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine later this week.
“In the last two weeks, the Bahamas has been very fortunate to receive a significant boost to our COVID-19 vaccine supplies,” Dr Dahl Regis stated. “On August 3, we received 33,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. This was the third tranche of pre-paid vaccines secured through the COVAX Facility with the assistance of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). We have 19,240 remaining doses of these doses remaining at this time.
“Just this past Thursday, the Bahamas received 128,700 doses of the Pfizer vaccine donated by the government of the United States...This generous donation is the first in a series of batches. Over the coming months, the Bahamas is expected to receive a total of 397,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine as a part of this significant donation. I am (also) pleased to report that the Bahamas has been notified that in this coming week it will receive 38,400 doses of the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”
Dr Dahl-Regis said the committee re-opened three additional vaccination centres in New Providence last week, which allowed them to administer a total of 8,858 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine during that period. Of that number, 61 percent accounted for first doses, while 39 percent accounted for second doses.
She added that the committee was pleased by the number of citizens and residents who were registering for the “life-saving vaccine”. She said that health officials have also noticed as their supplies have increased in recent weeks, so has the demand for the vaccine.
“Over the next week there are 7,514 appointments already booked,” she said. “This includes 4,603, or 61 percent first doses and 2,911, or 39 percent, second doses.This represents 96 percent of the appointment slots available online up until Friday of this week. During the week of August 23, we anticipate that a total of 17,100 appointments will be available. Our goal is to fully vaccinate 60,000 Bahamians and residents over the next six weeks.”
Dr Dahl-Regis said as of August 14, healthcare workers have administered 117,380 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. As it stands, a total of 51,150 people are fully vaccinated.
“We have been fortunate that all of our islands and cays where people reside have had the opportunity to be vaccinated with at least one dose of the vaccine,” she said. “We know that residents of the Family Islands are eager to learn when vaccinators will return to administer second doses and more first doses of the vaccine. From the AstraZeneca supplies that remain, second doses continue to be offered in New Providence and Grand Bahama. Family Island residents who have already received a first dose of AstraZeneca will be offered a second dose of the same vaccine.”
She said to assist with the planned rollout of the Pfizer vaccine, more vaccination centres will be added on New Providence, Grand Bahama and the Family Islands in the upcoming weeks. She said there will be additional requirements for “technical, physical and human resources” to ensure the delivery of this vaccine.
“The recommended interval between doses of the Pfizer vaccine is 21-28 days,” she stated. “This will allow us to fully vaccinate more people at a quicker rate. The Pfizer vaccine is available to everyone 12 years of age and older. Just as we did with the AstraZeneca vaccine, before we begin administering Pfizer to the general public, we will carry out an assessment of the administration of the vaccine with an already selected group of adults and children 12 and over.
“This will take place Monday, August 16. On Thursday, August 19 we will begin administering the Pfizer vaccine to the general public beginning at the Kendal G L Isaacs Gymnasium.
“The Kendal Isaacs Gym vaccination centre will be the only site administering the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday and Friday of this week. The public may begin booking appointments (today) starting at 3pm for the Kendal Isaacs Gym.”
Loyola Hall, St Anselm’s Church, Melia and Church of God vaccination centres in New Providence along with the Susan J Wallace Community Centre on Grand Bahama, will continue to operate this week to accommodate appointments to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. The Kendal Isaacs Gym, Loyola Hall and Melia vaccination centres in New Providence will also be open this Saturday and Sunday. The Pfizer will be offered at all of the weekend sites.
Dr Dahl-Regis said the committee would provide more information about the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines once the vaccine has arrived in the country.
She said: “The Bahamas supports the position of the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunisation, which advises that countries can consider administering a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine followed by a second dose of Pfizer, particularly in situations of interrupted supply. Studies have shown that offering a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine followed by a second dose of Pfizer offers strong protection against the COVID-19 virus. If you have received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, you will be able to book Pfizer as a second dose.
“The interval between an AstraZeneca and Pfizer regimen will follow the recommended guidelines. If you have received a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine abroad, you may receive your second dose of Pfizer in The Bahamas. However, you will be required to present proof of vaccination of the first dose, and present both vaccination cards to prove full vaccination status. You will be asked to register your vaccination status on the vax.gov.bs portal to be counted in the national vaccination numbers. At this time, we will not be offering a third dose of the vaccine.”
Dr Dahl-Regis insisted school children needed to be protected to facilitate safe in-person learning. She noted the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use in children between 12 –17 years of age and said this now gives the country the opportunity to vaccinate some school-aged children.
Interested parents and guardians can make appointments starting today. They will be required to fill out a consent form during the appointment-making process and all qualified children must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian to the vaccination centre.
Medical experts say the Pfizer vaccines must be stored in ultra-cold temperatures at all times. When asked if there was a back-up plan in the event of a power outage, Dr Dahl-Regis said the country has a backup generator for power failures.
“We have six portable freezers that reach minus 80 degrees,” she stated. “They hold 9,000 vaccines each. Further to that, we recently reviewed the revised recommendations from the scientific advisory group of experts that now tell us that if the vaccine is thawed out, it can remain viable safe and secure for 30 days in a refrigerated temperature.”