By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
FORMER Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said a terrible message will be sent to the international community if Johnson & Johnson vaccines expire at the end of the month before the shots go into arms.
He said The Bahamas will likely struggle to get additional vaccines if this happens.
His comment came after Health Minister Dr Michael Darville said on Tuesday that 20,000 J&J vaccines are set to expire at the end of this year.
Nonetheless, Dr Darville said yesterday that the vaccination committee believes vaccinations will increase during the holiday season and it is working on a “community and social mobilisation” to boost vaccine uptake.
Dr Darville said The Bahamas has reached the point where it is clear that those strongly interested in getting the vaccine have gotten it already. Some people, he said, are on the fence while others are strongly opposed and will not get vaccinated.
“That’s what every country is facing,” he said. “With the social mobilisation we are going for those individuals who are on the fence and what the country will see is new innovative ways to get people to come forward. We believe that by partnering with the private sector to give away gift certificates and going into a situation where we could have draws.
“One of the ways you target the groups is by offering incentives where they come to the centre, they get vaccinated and they get a gift certificate. Maybe a phone card, maybe food or it may be something else. And then combine with that we’re planning to offer the ability for their name to go into a pool and then there is a drawdown where you determine who is the winner. This is very important and has proven to be very effective in other parts of the world.”
For his part, Dr Minnis insisted officials have not heeded his warnings about the implications of the slowing vaccination rate and did not have contingency plans in place.
“If we have to discard vaccines it sends a terrible message to the international community, the Americans and others who I’m certain are monitoring our vaccine utilisation and I am certain it would be very difficult moving forward for us to obtain vaccines,” he said.
“When the J&J vaccines were purchased, they were purchased by the African platform in conjunction with CARICOM and we paid a deposit of $45k. The aim was for the vaccine to be utilised, especially in the Family Islands, the prison, detention centre and facilities like that.
“My records would reflect that they were only utilising about 30 per week, which meant that if you did the calculation they were doing about 4.2 J&J vaccines per day. Just reviewing that would inform them that they would run into serious problems.”
Davis administration officials say they met great reluctance to the J&J vaccine when they entered office, saying people preferred to get the Pfizer shots.
Dr Minnis said: “If they were monitoring this properly, they would’ve made contact with other nations that have J&J, see where their expiration dates are and do an exchange as opposed to throwing away the taxpayers’ money, with us having already paid $45k as deposit and that was only 15 percent deposit, with more outstanding monies to be paid and possibly 20,000 vaccines to be thrown away.
“I think that’s very embarrassing to the government and it sends a terrible message to the international arena that The Bahamas whose vaccination rate is probably about (less than) 50 percent is about to throw away or discard vaccines. I would hope they are in communication with some other territory that utilises J&J and see whether they can do an exchange and subsequently extend the vaccination period.”
Dr Minnis also said he is concerned that the Davis administration is permitting Christmas Carnival activities this season. He said the government would be ill-advised to allow the fair to take place, considering many patrons will be children who are too young to be vaccinated.
“What alarms me as I drive past Clifton Park coming to Parliament, I see that carnival is being set up,” he said. “The government must be very careful in allowing such close contact with Omicron being in the US. It’s only a matter of time before it comes here and it’s still under review, but it appears it is very infectious and young people who will be utilising the carnival facilities, those young people are not vaccinated.
“It’s very ill advised and I don’t know whether the government has consulted the medical fraternity on a decision on the carnival. I think it’s ill-advised, especially noting that countries are locking down and Omicron is moving throughout the world very swiftly.”
Dr Darville, however, said carnival representatives are meeting the Ministry of Health’s protocols and that officials will increase oversight to ensure their rules are followed.
“We’re trying to encourage commerce and it’s a very difficult thing to do,” he said.
Dr Darville said there will be consequences if protocols are not followed.