By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
The Ministry of Health on Wednesday said it wished to clarify that no one under the age of 18 years of age, including children in The Bahamas, will be administered the COVID-19 vaccine.
This came after Health Minister Renward Wells said yesterday the government has not yet decided whether students in The Bahamas will have to take the COVID-19 vaccine as a part of an entry requirement to attend school. Once a decision has been made, Mr Wells said the public will be informed.
The Ministry's statement said: “Although the Government of The Bahamas has been proactive in securing mechanisms that will give the Bahamian people access to this much-needed vaccine, the Ministry of Health underscores that administration of the COVID-19 vaccine is entirely voluntary. In other words, only those who wish to receive the vaccine can avail themselves of it.
The statement added: “The Ministry notes the global scientific clinical trials currently underway to determine/study the safety and efficacy of this vaccine in persons 12 to 17 years of age. We assure the Bahamian people that COVID-19 vaccination among children will not be offered within this sub-population until evidence suggests it is safe to do so, and with the consent of parents and guardians.”
Mr Wells had made the remarks in response to questions from reporters outside Cabinet.
The matter has been an issue of concern for some parents from the time schools were ordered shut in March. Although schools have since reopened, there are some public institutions on several islands where virtual learning is still only practised.
“We are in discussions about it but obviously if that decision is made, we will come back and tell the Bahamian people, but we don’t require you to take the flu vaccine to go to school,” Mr Wells said.
“There are some vaccines that are required and there are some vaccines that are not. The flu vaccine is not required.”
Asked if the matter is being discussed by Cabinet, he replied: “I’m saying that I’m going to bring it to that level but at the end of the day the current position of The Bahamas (is) that this is (not) mandatory unless the WHO and others change their protocols and their requirements. I don’t believe you’ll see any change with us, but again this situation with COVID is very fluid.”
He also said this does not mean the government’s position on not making the vaccine mandatory has changed. Mr Wells again stressed that Bahamians who do not wish to take the vaccine will not be forced to do so.
However, he noted some people’s views may change if new international travel policies are implemented, prohibiting entry into foreign countries without being vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We’re not going to change our position on that as far as I’m aware,” he told reporters. “The government of The Bahamas has said that people will take this vaccine because they want to take it.
“Now, you have a choice. If a country, if the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union say, ‘Listen, we’re not letting you in our country unless you take this COVID-19 vaccine,’ they have the right to do that. Every country around the globe sets its rules as to how you’re going to come into that country.”
He added: “This is not new... Countries around the world have been doing that with yellow fever for 50 to 60 years so I say this is not new, so if countries are going to say, ‘Listen, we feel that COVID-19 is such a threat to our economic wellbeing and our social cohesion as a society, we’re not letting in anybody who does not have the vaccine.’ The country has a right to do that.”
Several countries have already started vaccinating citizens against the COVID-19 threat, prioritising frontline healthcare workers and those at high risk of contracting the potentially deadly virus.
Their vaccinations come as some 33 countries worldwide – including the UK and the United States – battle a new variant of COVID-19, which is said to be more infectious but not more deadly.
In response to rising cases stemming from the new strain, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday announced a new national lockdown for England which is not set to end until at least mid-February.
Health officials have already said it’s only a matter of time before The Bahamas sees the new strain.
Yesterday, Mr Wells said while officials are closely monitoring the situation, they are also hopeful the current travel protocols will “slow down the progression of this new strain”.
“The United Kingdom is on lockdown even while they’re deploying this vaccine to their citizens. Their orders are in place and they’re seeking to do all they can to continue to protect their people as The Bahamas and every other country is doing,” he said.
“This strain seems to, as you say, seems to be spreading rapidly. Canada has put some mitigating measures in place to be able to stop travel. We are, as I said, monitoring the circumstance and we have our protocols at the border and we’re hoping as I said, these protocols will be adequate to slow down the progression of this new strain into the country.”
Asked yesterday if the government decided yet on which vaccine it will choose for the country, Mr Wells only said that officials are keeping their options open as discussions with several vaccine distributors are continuing.
“As I said, we have all of our irons in the fire,” he said. “We’re keeping all of our options open. We’re talking to all of the manufactures the Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson and Johnson, we even had approaches from countries – the Russians, we’ve had overtures from China and we are now having overtures from India in regards to the vaccines and so there is a plethora of potential out there.
“So, the government of The Bahamas will make the very best decision in the health interest of the Bahamian people as to which direction we will go in in regards to vaccines.”