NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Dr Esther de Gourville, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/World Health Organization (WHO) representative in The Bahamas, yesterday debunked a recent report on the COVAX Facility, assuring that it will be able to deliver its promised amount of vaccines to The Bahamas and other countries.
A Reuters exclusive on Wednesday revealed that internal documents from the WHO COVAX Facility outlined several challenges with the global scheme to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries, showing a “very high” risk of failure.
The article also pointed to notes in the document that showed the facility has not been able to get funds to procure the vaccine, and that the vaccine may not become available to poorer countries until 2024.
However, de Gourville insisted that the report will not affect The Bahamas.
She noted that the documents being referenced were prepared for a board meeting of GAVI in which they were looking at a risk assessment for the portfolio that was under development.
De Gourville said as of yesterday, WHO has secured the $2 billion needed to access vaccines for the countries that have enrolled in COVAX and have also secured the number of vaccines they need for the nearly 200 countries that have enrolled in COVAX.
She advised the organization anticipates rolling out the vaccines in the first quarter of 2021, January to March.
De Gourville noted that in order for countries to begin receiving vaccines, they must meet certain criteria to indicate they are in a state of readiness.
This includes having the appropriate infrastructure for safe storage of vaccines, having a national vaccine deployment plan and strategy, preparing the population for receiving the vaccine and identifying the priority people for initial vaccinations.
The government has estimated procurement and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine throughout the country, once one is chosen by the WHO, will cost $4.5 million.
A down payment of $250,000 has already been paid for 80,000 doses of the vaccine — accounting for up to 20 percent of the country’s population.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has approved a US$20 million loan to the government of The Bahamas to acquire the COVID-19 vaccine and help develop the infrastructure around its distribution.
Asked when she thinks the vaccine will begin distribution to the general public, de Gourville said she could not say, given the fight to ensure global equity of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“At the moment, demand exceeds supply and you would appreciate that we are all racing towards providing [the] vaccine at sufficient quantity to meet global demand,” she said.
She noted that while countries like Canada, America and the United Kingdom have already begun vaccinations, other poorer countries would be left behind without the COVAX Facility.
“If that trend continues, countries like ours run the risk of not having access,” she added.
“That’s what we are trying to avoid… We are trying to ensure equity. There are market forces at work that would influence how doses will become available because all countries need supplies.”