Book your jabs from Wednesday
THE vaccine rollout process will begin on Wednesday on New Providence and Grand Bahama with the appointment system expected to go live tomorrow, the National COVID-19 Vaccine Consultative Committee announced yesterday.
Individuals eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in this first phase include: healthcare workers in the public sector, and private sector healthcare workers participating in the vaccination rollout; residents and staff of eldercare homes and non-ambulatory residents registered in the public health system; and staff of the uniformed branches.
Appointments are not required for residents and staff of elder care homes and non-ambulatory residents, who will be vaccinated by COVID-19 vaccine mobile units.
The appointment system will go live on March 16 for healthcare workers and uniformed staff members, beginning with the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, on New Providence and Grand Bahama.
Eligible healthcare workers and uniformed branch staff will be informed within their respective institutions as to how to make their appointments, a statement said.
All eligible vaccine candidates in this first phase will be required to present an ID code generated by the appointment system and valid government-issued identification at the vaccination site.
Starting Wednesday, vaccinations will be administered at public health institutions, including Princess Margaret Hospital, Doctors Hospital, and the vaccination site at Loyola Hall on New Providence for community health providers. On Grand Bahama, shots will be given out at Rand Memorial Hospital.
Those required for the continuity of government, including government officials, will be vaccinated during this initial effort. A pilot of the vaccination process was conducted yesterday at Loyola Hall to ensure a smooth rollout.
Ruth Bastian, a public health nurse since 1975, was the first person in the country to receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine during this pilot phase.
Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis, chairperson of the NCVCC, was the second person to receive the vaccine.
Nurse Bastian told reporters moments after receiving the injection that she was “feeling fine,” and urged the public to rely on only reputable information when making a decision about getting the vaccine.
After getting the shot, she was observed 15 minutes by a nurse and doctor.
“I would say that the vaccine is safe,” Nurse Bastian said. “I would also say that persons may be concerned about the origin of the vaccine. The company where we received this vaccine from produces over 80 percent of the vaccines worldwide, so I am not worried about the manufacturing.
“I encourage people to read and get your information from reputable sources to make sure that you are getting reliable information.”
A group of 110 individuals took part in Sunday’s pilot. The group consisted of healthcare workers, staff of the uniformed branches and volunteers working on the vaccination campaign, including data entry clerks, vaccinators, medical observers and other volunteers.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis and his wife, Patricia Minnis, and Minister of Health Renward Wells also received the vaccine yesterday.
As the COVID-19 vaccination programme progresses, members of the public will be notified in advance of eligibility to make their appointments to receive the vaccine, the committee said.
More information will soon be provided as it relates to the rollout in the Family Islands, the statement said.
The Bahamas received 20,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine last week, a gift from the government of India.
The country is expected to receive an additional 33,600 COVID-19 vaccine doses before the end of March through the World Health Organisation’s COVAX facility. A further tranche of approximately 66,000 vaccines is expected to arrive by the end of May.
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said the country is “turning the corner” in the fight against COVID-19, after he and his wife were among the nation’s first to receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine yesterday.
Dr Minnis said he is confident that the majority of citizens will receive the vaccine, a catalyst for returning to normal. He believes this will be done by May or June of this year.
“I think what is amazing is soon as individuals had heard that I and others were being vaccinated, I was amused by the number of phone calls that I received at home,” he said when asked about his confidence in getting the majority of the population vaccinated.
“Everywhere I stopped — I went to the supermarket this morning shopping and people were stopping me asking when they can get the vaccine. So, I think we’re turning the corner now. “Lots of Bahamians are understanding and they recognise that the vaccine is safe, and it will save lives and that has been our real mantra, saving lives and getting us back to work.”
Before he spoke to reporters, Dr Minnis got his first injection of the two-dose vaccine and completed a 15 minute observation period by health officials at Loyola Hall on Gladstone Road.
Around 110 people received shots in the “pilot” phase of the vaccine process yesterday.
Nurse Ruth Bastian, a public health nurse since 1975, was the first person in the country to receive the vaccine yesterday morning.
Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis, chairperson of the National COVID-19 Vaccine Consultative Committee (NCVCC), was the second person to receive the vaccine. Health Minister Renward Wells and Free National Movement St Anne’s candidate Adrian White were also among this group. Mr White received the shot yesterday after reporting to the hall for a COVID-19 training session with the Rotary Club.
The group was told that the number of vaccines at the facility outnumbered the volume of appointments of people who signed up to be vaccinated yesterday.
Dr Minnis said receiving the vaccine should be viewed as “essential”.
“I feel great. I guess even as a physician all of my colleagues would know that I am afraid of needles, (but) to be honest I didn’t feel it and so individuals who are even afraid of needles they need not worry because you cannot feel it.
“But I look forward to the entire Bahamas receiving the vaccine because our great priority at this particular time is safety and ensuring that all of our population, all of our Bahamians, residents and those within the Bahamas are safe. So that we can go back to work, commence our regular life and socialise. That is a part of our culture. We are not a group of people who are accustomed to elbow and social distancing. So, I think we would be more than happy to get back to normal life as quickly as possible.”
He also said: “I think it’s essential. There (has) been a lot of fake news and rumours about the side effects and different things, but you would notice that millions and millions of individuals throughout the world have already been vaccinated and there have not been any difficulty or problems and that speaks volumes.
“I have taken mine. There was no fear or anything and I advise the Bahamian population to take the vaccine also so that our country can get back to normal as quickly as possible and people can start working, their kids can get back to school, individuals can start playing, our athletes can get back to practising, (and) we can prepare for Olympics.
“It’s essential for us to get, especially our Family Islands, back to normal and advancing them as quickly as possible.”
Asked what he now personally looked forward to, Dr Minnis said: “… What I am looking forward to is for us receiving the remainder of the vaccine so that our entire population can be rolled out as quickly as possible.
“I would like to see our entire populace back to normal (by) May, June so that we can commence whatever things we’ve done in the past.”
While he refused to comment on what would come next in the phase of the process yesterday, Dr Minnis said on Friday that health officials plan to administer this first set of vaccines in single doses and not two jabs per person.
This means 20,000 people will receive a single dose in the next several weeks as opposed to only 10,000 people getting two doses out of this batch.
He said officials will not distribute the vaccinations “half-half” because they expect to receive additional doses by the time the first set of vaccinated individuals are ready for their second shot.
For her part, Dr Dahl-Regis said there was some regret that a vaccine was not available 15 months ago resulting in the loss of lives.
“…I would like to share with each of you that I had a neighbour who was a physician who died and I said this morning if only we had this vaccine 15 months ago we would have saved at least 181 lives,” she told reporters yesterday after receiving her shot.
Addressing vaccine hesitancy, she said officials will only give the shot to those who want it.
“Vaccine hesitancy is a real concern. It’s not only here it’s global. You have a lot of misinformation circulating.
“For example, the association with AstraZeneca and the thromboembolism (blood clots) in two patients, 26 million took it, two patients and now they’ve established that it’s unrelated to the vaccine, but the hesitancy is really related to misinformation.
“When it comes to mistrust of vaccines, this vaccine is new unlike all the other vaccines we have used. We don’t have a long history. We don’t know what 10 years, 15 years, 25 years compared to some of the other experiences we’ve had.
“…So, we’ve had the successes and if folks would only reflect back there was never hesitancy, there was total embrace. People are struggling, fighting to get the vaccine. There is a global shortage right now of vaccines for COVID-19. There will be an abundance later on but right now there is a global shortage, so we are really thrilled to have the vaccine and those who don’t want it need not take it. There are many more people who want it than the supply that we have so those who want it will get it.”
Speaking to concerns that the next batch of vaccines could be delayed, Dr Dahl-Regis said the second shot is not needed for another 12 weeks.