By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
OXFORD-ASTRAZENECA’S COVID-19 vaccine will only be given to people between 18 and 65, though this may change as scientific studies about the effectiveness of the vaccine in the over-65 population are reviewed.
The announcement was made by Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis, head of the COVID-19 Vaccine National Consultative Committee, yesterday.
With this plan, The Bahamas joins a number of European countries that have not made the vaccine available to people older than 65 – the age grouping most vulnerable to COVID-19’s risks.
Speaking during a press conference, Dr Dahl-Regis said: “We have a choice. At this time, prior to this afternoon’s release of additional data, we had decided that we will vaccinate 18 to 65-year-olds and older than 65, that’s 28,000, such a small population, that we will hold (off on) that group. Given the new literature, we will have to review that data and we really need rather than rely on press releases of scientific data to have an opportunity to look at the published data that has gone under peer-review.
“A group of scientists, including our national representatives, will have active discussion on this and then such recommendations will be taken to the committee and then we will decide. But the plan is, from this morning’s plan, was to limit our grouping to 18-65.”
Dr Dahl-Regis could not say exactly when the vaccine will arrive in the country, noting that the promised 100,000 doses could come in two tranches as opposed to all at once.
“We don’t know,” she said. “We are expecting that it may come in two tranches, but those tranches will be close together. We will know more in a week’s time when they tell us but we’re just in a holding pattern right now.”
She said officials will follow the scientific recommendation that a two-dose regimen be administered, meaning 50,000 people will be eligible to receive the first 100,000 doses. Officials said the second dose will be administered 12 weeks later.
Health officials have formed three “priority groups”, a characterisation that will dictate who gets the vaccine and when.
Group one includes healthcare workers, uniform branch workers and elder care providers.
Group two includes people with disabilities, people living in congregate settings, critical workers in high-risk settings, other essential service workers, people with co-morbidities and underlying chronic conditions and sea, air and ground persons.
Group three will include all other people.
Dr Dahl-Regis said officials anticipate that the vaccination process for the first batch of vaccines will be completed over six weeks.
The proposed distribution sequence includes the first four weeks for New Providence, Grand Bahama and Bimini, weeks two to five for Abaco, the Abaco cays and Exuma, and weeks four through six for Andros, the Berry Islands and Eleuthera.
“At the outset, healthcare workers at public health facilities, vaccinators and frontline workers will be targeted early in the administration process. On islands with small populations, health teams will immunise all eligible residents, they will not follow the priority groups. They are small populations,” Dr Dahl-Regis said.
“The vaccines will be administered at accessible locations in communities throughout The Bahamas to increase access to all Bahamians and residents and ensure equitable distribution of vaccines to those who choose to take it. There will be a focus on high-risk populations where COVID-19 has occurred.”
The vaccination process will involve registration for the vaccine, vaccine receipt, monitoring for adverse effects and then certification. Pre-registration available online and at registration centres across the country.
Dr Dahl Regis noted that some people should not get the vaccine.
“Extra precautions must be taken to determine if there are significant allergies or if the immune system is compromised to the point that significantly reduces the effect of the vaccine. This is the reason why we must protect those who cannot receive the vaccine. “Getting the vaccine protects not only you but those around you,” she said.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which was co-invented by the University of Oxford, will be provided through the World Health Organisation’s COVAX facility.
Although the government did not have a choice in which vaccine it would get from the WHO, Dr Dahl-Regis said among the three most prominent vaccines worldwide – Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna – the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is the one that officials preferred.
“We were quite amenable to receiving Moderna but because of the ultra-cold requirements of Pfizer we recognise that would have been a challenge for portability, particularly throughout the archipelago,” she said.