By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
HEALTH and Wellness Minister Dr Michael Darville said his ministry along with officials from the Pan American Health Organisation are concerned about vaccine hesitancy in the country, noting a drop in vaccination rates in recent weeks.
Dr Darville’s comments came after Marco City MP Michael Pintard raised alarm about the issue in the House of Assembly yesterday, while calling on the minister to explain the reasoning behind the weakening demand for vaccinations.
He also described the trend as concerning.
“The vaccination rate appears to be dropping,” Mr Pintard told MPs. “I’m uncertain and I’m sure the Minister of Health can clarify because I’m certainly interested in what accounts for the rate that Bahamians are now getting vaccinations.
“I believe we’ve fallen off if I’m not correct, somewhere around 1,000 or so a day, we’re down to probably 500. I’m not sure but the member of Tall Pines if it’s an issue if persons simply don’t have access to vaccines, I find that difficult to understand because we have and I’m advised on adequate supplies in country but could it be that the option is not a bigger as it ought to be, but it’s a worrisome trend and I’m hoping that it does not continue.
“Now I remember before the election, the government side, (who was) then opposition, was adamant that one of the things that was critical was testing, testing and testing and then of course, you supported the vaccination as well but very quietly,” he added.
Admitting that vaccination rates have slowed in the past few weeks, Dr Darville said officials have found vaccination centres are just not as effective as they once were, a situation that forced officials to become more creative.
In a bid to make vaccines more accessible, the minister said the government decided to introduce mobile vaccination units and pop up sites.
“The reality is that the member did speak about our vaccination programme and in one instance, he is absolutely correct,” Dr Darville told Parliament. “We, along with the Pan American Health Organisation, are very concerned with our numbers of vaccinations the last two or three weeks. We are beginning to see a fall and like any responsible government it is our responsibility to begin to explore all of the reasons why.
“One of the things we’ve noticed is that the larger centres, just reflective of centres across the globe, are not as effective at this stage now that we have passed 40 percent and it is our responsibility to go (to) the people in smaller different vaccination mobile units (in) different places to make life easier for individuals who want to be vaccinated.
“As we speak, the vaccination committee as well as my ministry is exploring all of the avenues. We realise that at 40 percent, like many other parts of the world, we are now approaching the time where we’re beginning to see some areas of vaccination hesitation.”
Yesterday, Mr Pintard said that based on the most recent data, it appeared the pace of vaccinations had been slowing since September.
However, Dr Darville replied: “That’s not correct... we realised that in coming to office, there were some partial delays in vaccines arriving in the country at the appropriate dates. I’ve made some utterances as it relates to why that happened and subsequently, we have adequate vaccines in the country as we speak and we are now vaccinating individuals in our Family Islands by way of our clinics. We’re exploring avenues on how to get the private healthcare facilities involved...”
Mr Pintard also asked if Cabinet ministers and government MPs have been mandated to take the vaccine, since the government was encouraging the public to get their shots. In response, Dr Darville said it was the government’s policy that vaccinations are not mandatory for anyone—however people are greatly encouraged to take them.
Yesterday, Free National Movement leader Dr Hubert Minnis contacted The Tribune, also raising concern about the declining vaccination rates. He questioned if some vaccines might go to waste through expiration since numbers were dwindling.
Dr Minnis said: “At this rate, will we utilise the amount of vaccines that we have gotten for the country? How many individuals must be vaccinated weekly in order to utilise the hundreds of thousands of vaccines that the FNM government had secured and will this rate result in vaccines not being utilised and the government placed in a position to throw away hard earned vaccines? And will the government kindly inform us as to the expiration dates of the vaccines? How many expire in November? How many expire in December?
“If they are not utilised, will they be discarded and thrown away?”
When contacted, Dr Darville said “the vaccines still have quite a bit of time left” before they expire, however he could not say exactly when they would not be fit for use.
The declining appetite for vaccinations comes at a time when local COVID infections and hospitalisations are declining in the country.
According to the latest data, 136,238 people in the country are fully vaccinated as of November 6. Meanwhile, 138,073 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
In a post released yesterday, the Ministry of Health said the Pfizer vaccine will be offered at several pop-up sites in New Providence over the weekend, including the South West Shopping Centre on Carmichael, the Mall of Marathon, Fusion Superplex and Arawak Cay.