By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
MORE than 60 healthcare workers and senior executives from the Public Hospitals Authority received their first shots of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at Princess Margaret Hospital yesterday, marking the official rollout of the country’s vaccination campaign against the deadly coronavirus.
This comes just over a week after the nation received 20,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the Indian government.
Yesterday’s vaccination session also follows the inoculations of Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, Health Minister Renward Wells and other officials, who were among the nation’s first to receive the injections as a part of a pilot phase conducted at Loyola Hall on Sunday. More than 100 people took part in that pilot.
PMH coordinator for patient registration and scheduling, Angelica Lockhart-Bastian told The Tribune yesterday morning that 50 healthcare workers and other hospital staff were expected to participate in yesterday’s vaccination process at PMH. However, a PHA official later confirmed to this newspaper that a total of 61 workers had actually received their first injections of the two-dose vaccine yesterday, a situation the official stressed was not because of low interest.
It is not clear when Grand Bahama will begin vaccinations. Other vaccination sites on New Providence will begin operations later this week. Asked how many frontline workers had been registered to date, Mrs Lockhart-Bastian was unable to say.
However, she said 170 people from various health departments, including PHA and Emergency Medical Services, had “expressed interest” to PMH on receiving the vaccines ahead of yesterday’s vaccination process.
Given the website to register to be vaccinated did not go live until Tuesday afternoon officials are happy with the numbers who instantly applied and were given the available times to come in to be vaccinated.
As days progress and other sites open the numbers should ramp up for those wanting to take the vaccine.
According to PMH Medical Chief of Staff Dr Caroline Burnett-Garraway a survey conducted by officials several months ago found that about 40 percent of healthcare workers at the facility wanted to be vaccinated.
Dr Burnett-Garraway spoke to reporters after getting vaccinated. She was the first person in the medical group to be inoculated yesterday morning.
Describing the moment as “exciting,” Dr Burnett-Garraway said she wanted to help lead the way forward and also encouraged others to take the vaccine when the opportunity becomes available.
“I feel privileged and relieved and I just wanted to set the example because people are reluctant, not sure and they’re waiting to see and (I just wanted) to set the example that it’s safe and that we should all take it,” she said.
“The benefits of taking this vaccine outweighs the chance of getting a little (blood) clot so I encourage everyone when your time comes, please get it and protect yourselves.”
PHA Managing Director Catherine Weech and Deputy Director Lyrone Burrows were also among those who received the vaccine at PMH.
Mr Burrows was in good spirits after his first shot.
Saying he believed the country’s vaccination campaign was off to a good start so far, Mr Burrows told reporters that officials are hoping to see an uptick in numbers in the days ahead.
“We’re hopeful that those persons who have booked their appointment do show up. We came off with a very good start and we anticipate that that will continue to accelerate in the days and weeks to come,” he noted.
He also said: “Based on the logistics, we anticipate that we will have more than sufficient time to be able to distribute those vaccine and that we will have no challenges in terms of any wastage.”
PMH Administrator Mary Walker also commented on the national vaccination process yesterday, telling reporters that officials anticipate that the local hospital can vaccinate up to a minimum of 120 workers a day.
She told reporters: “We know that our total staff complement here at Princess Margaret Hospital is somewhere in the region of 1,800 but we also have the responsibility of vaccinating the EMS services as well as out supply management chain persons and the corporate office so that takes us over about 2,000 plus persons.
“A percentage of that we anticipate to want to be immunised in this first wave. We looked at the appointment system when we had the trial on Sunday and we realised just how many people we could do in a given hour and as we planned out those appointment systems, we figured here—working efficiently—we can at minimum do 120 a day...it’s been a smooth process so far and everyone who has registered this morning has presented themselves in their appointment schedule time and they are being served.”
Chief telephonist at PMH Marina Laing also received her first vaccine shot yesterday which she hopes will allow her life to return to some normalcy. Mrs Laing said she has not been able to see her son or father for about a year due to the pandemic.
“I decided to get vaccinated because I have underlying issues and I would really love to travel,” she said. “I want to bring some normalcy in my life – visiting family members, especially my dad, he’s 88-years-old and I need to be around him to take care of him. I have a son in the United States. I would like to visit him so that is my reason to be vaccinated.”
Earlier this week, Dr Minnis said the country is “turning the corner” in the fight against COVID-19, adding that he feels confident that the majority of citizens will receive the vaccine.
This comes at a time when the AstraZeneca shots are being temporarily suspended in several European countries – including Germany, France, Italy and Spain – out of fears people who received it have had blood clots.
Officials from the European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organisation have since defended the shot as safe, insisting that no direct link between blood clot symptoms and the vaccine has been established.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Renward Wells told reporters that if any Bahamian were to experience negative post vaccination side effects, the government will respond “immediately.”
Governor General Cornelius Smith is expected to receive his first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine at 8.30 am today. Meanwhile, former Health Minister Dr Duane Sands has booked his vaccine appointment for Friday, The Tribune can confirm.
An official said after yesterday’s exercise, PMH received more inquiries from interested people about getting the vaccine.