By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
DEPUTY Chief Medical Officer Dr Delon Brennen has maintained that the Ministry of Health has a proper contingency plan in place for the protection of COVID-19 vaccines in the event there are power outages that could compromise vaccine supply.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine — which is expected to arrive in the country soon — can be stored in normal refrigerator temperatures at 36 degrees to 46 degrees Fahrenheit for at least six months.
Meanwhile, Pfizer vaccines must be stored at -70 degrees, making them a suboptimal choice for rural areas and developing countries.
Although there are no current plans to get the Pfizer vaccine, Health Minister Renward Wells already said Cabinet has approved the purchase of a number of ultra-cold coolers budgeted at $100,000.
Yesterday, Dr Brennen expressed confidence in the government’s distribution and deployment vaccination plan even if any problems were to arise.
This comes after Texas was forced on Monday to administer more than 5,000 COVID-19 vaccines after a deadly winter storm pummeled the American state, causing power outages in a facility storing the doses.
Asked about the ministry’s contingency plans if such challenges were to occur in The Bahamas, Dr Brennen replied: “The Ministry of Health has an extensive plan for the distribution, deployment of the vaccine within our archipelago so not just in New Providence and Grand Bahama, but also throughout the smaller territories and islands as well.
“And so in that instance, we have contingency plans in place to ensure that we pay attention to not just the ability to generate power but back up power and also identify partners on those islands who would be able to assist should there become a power outage issue.
“And so in our islands, we have partnered with some of our other agencies like Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) or we’ve done so with the telecommunications providers on the island in other instances where persons have back up generation power and they may be able to assist us with the ability to ensure that our vaccine supply is not compromised and it’s kept at the right storage temperatures so we have backups and backups to our backups situations that we are ensuring no matter where it is, we will be able to protect our supply and we don’t end up with compromised situations.”
For her part, Chief Medical Officer Dr Pearl McMillan noted that ensuring safe protection of the country’s vaccine supply is not a new phenomenon for the ministry.
She said: “Protecting our national immunisation supply has been a very important consideration of the minister of health for many, many years. For the national immunisation programme, we have a facility where we keep the national supply so certainly that will be utilised in New Providence as it relates to any immunisations that we are planning to roll out including COVID and so certainly on all of our islands, we build on what we already have in place from our national immunisation programme and we add consistently to that.”
Officials anticipate that 100,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will arrive in the country sometime between now and the end of the second quarter of the year through the World Health Organisation’s COVAX facility.
Health officials have formed three “priority groups” that will determine 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 personnel.
Group three will include all other adults.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis is expected to provide additional details on the national COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan when he addresses the nation on Sunday.