By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Super Value’s principal yesterday said he will be “very disappointed if thousands” of shoppers fail to get COVID-vaccinated at two of his stores this weekend, adding: “We must get to 100 percent.”
Rupert Roberts told Tribune Business that his Golden Gates outlet, as well as Quality Supermarket’s South Beach location, had partnered with the Ministry of Health, the National Vaccination Committee and Rotarians to bring COVID vaccines closer to the people in a bid to reverse declining vaccination rates.
Revealing that the initiative could extend to the 14-store chain’s other outlets if this weekend is successful, and there is a sufficient vaccine supply available, he added that he had been promoting the inoculation drive on social media.
“I want to spread that around in the chats,” Mr Roberts told this newspaper. “We’ve got to get this nation up to 100 percent [vaccinated] so we can get our economy back, keep our tourists coming and everybody stays safe.”
He revealed that six months ago, under the former Minnis administration, he had offered all Super Value and Quality Supermarket stores as potential vaccination sites to the Ministry of Health. However, the Super Value chief suggested this was never taken up because, amid the country’s COVID-19 “third wave” and rising death rates, vaccinations were at the time increasing.
“They have now slowed down, so we’re going to have to go into the population,” Mr Roberts said, adding that Bahamians will now be able to combine their weekly grocery shopping with receiving their COVID-19 jabs.
He explained that the Golden Gates and South Beach locations were selected because they are “in heavily populated areas, so that’s what we’re targeting”. Super Value’s Golden Gates store, in particular, lies at the heart of one of the busiest areas in New Providence, located across the road from the South-West Shopping Plaza with bank, Wendy’s and KFC branches all nearby.
“I think that while they are in the vicinity to come grocery shopping they’re going to have the opportunity to get vaccinated before and after,” Mr Roberts said. “We’re hoping to really pick up the numbers. We have to get the country vaccinated. We have to get this country’s numbers up.
“The minister [Dr Michael Darville] said that in the last couple of months, 95 percent of the deaths were persons who were unvaccinated, so we will protect our tourists, get our economy back and keep the population safe. I believe that now, since they cannot go to the US, and cannot go to Wal-Mart, they’re considering it [vaccinations] more and we will make it easier for them.”
Food store vaccinations, Mr Roberts said, will likely be more convenient for Bahamians and residents who presently have to “make time and go out of their way” to get vaccinated at government-appointed sites.
“We will be in the most populated areas of the island,” he reiterated. “If we get the numbers through we will do next week and go on.” The Super Value chief said this was no different from the US and Florida, which have used retail chains such as Wal-Mart, Target and Walgreens to more widely distribute COVID-19 vaccines at a much faster pace.
Mr Roberts also voiced optimism that the provision of in-store vaccinations will increase inoculation rates among Super Value’s staff. He added that 40 percent of workers were fully vaccinated when he checked one month ago, and said this had likely risen to 45 percent.
“I’ll be very disappointed if everybody in those two stores is not vaccinated by the end of this weekend,” Mr Roberts told this newspaper. “It would be a big disappointment to me... If we don’t do vaccinations by the thousands I’m going to be very disappointed.
“Then we’ll have to figure out another strategy, but I believe it’s going to be more convenient for people. This is not my part; it’s my duty to the country. If it works we can go to every [store] location. We can go anywhere.”
Mr Roberts said he and the Ministry of Health had initially looked at Golden Gates and Prince Charles Drive as the two COVID-19 vaccination pioneering sites, but the latter venue was switched to South Beach because it is a more densely-populated area.