By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE chairperson of the National Vaccine Consultative Committee says The Bahamas faces rapidly dwindling COVID-19 vaccine supplies due to increased demand, however hesitancy remains among a portion of the population about receiving the jab despite more than 100,000 people reaching full inoculation.
On Sunday, health officials announced that the country reached a new vaccination milestone, with 104,380 people now fully vaccinated.
However, in an interview with The Tribune yesterday, Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis said while this was exciting news, it did not mean that vaccine hesitancy was a thing of the past.
She said there was rapid consumption of doses, but currently no confirmed date for when new supplies from the US government or the COVAX facility will arrive.
“I’m excited,” she said of the new vaccination milestone.
“We started March 15 and so to attain that level within this period of time is significant given that we’ve had to manage the supply issue of vaccines and I think that tranche of Pfizer—128,000 doses—really made a difference and the uptake and the demand is there, and I think it’s been there for a while.
“What I think is really impacting the demand is the travel. The proposed travel requirements for international travel particularly the US. We have been seeing a steady stream at the vaccination sites. The Family Islands have done extremely well, and I am really pleased although the numbers aren’t high, the participation is great.”
Asked if this meant that vaccine hesitancy was no longer an issue, Dr Dahl-Regis said there was still increasing amounts of misinformation influencing decisions against receiving the vaccines.
“I think we still have a population who are not willing to take the vaccine. We have not overcome it. We may have made a dent in it, but we still have those persons who really are still, for the same reasons when we started, are continuing and the misinformation has not decreased, it has increased.”
She also said: “When I mention supplies, we are consuming the doses that we have right now in our infantry at quite a rate and we are anticipating that second tranche of Pfizer both from COVAX as well as from the US, but we don’t have dates of arrival for those yet.”
Despite this, Dr Dahl-Regis said she did not believe the supply would be completely depleted or hinder the government’s ability to give the vaccines altogether.
“I do not anticipate that at all,” she said. “We have a supply of Johnson & Johnson vaccines and we manage our supplies in such a manner that we guarantee the second doses. If you had your first dose you will get the second dose.”
Meanwhile, she said the number of teens getting the Pfizer vaccine has been encouraging with many more people inquiring about vaccines for children aged five to 11-years-old.
Currently, only people who are 12 and older are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.
The US Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved the vaccine for children five to 11-years-old, however it is reviewing data from Pfizer-BioNTech to make a decision.
“Many are now anxiously awaiting the 5 to 11 grouping, if vaccines become available but we recognise that it’s going to be a little while still because this is a paediatric population, they’re very young,” Dr Dahl-Regis said.
Concerning the committee’s position on booster shots, Dr Dahl-Regis said with supply an issue, boosters cannot be considered.
“We first have to get the first and second doses and we have a supply issue and what we’re concerned about is that if we have adequate supplies for the first and second doses.
“One can’t even consider boosters at this time for the Pfizer that is. It’s not recommended yet for the AstraZeneca,” Dr Dahl-Regis said.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control, COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are available for people who have received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine who completed their initial series at least six months ago and are 65 years and older, 18 and older who live in long-term care settings and 18 and older who have underlying medical conditions
Also, those 18 and older who work in high-risk settings and who live in high-risk settings are permitted to receive a booster.