NASSAU, BAHAMAS — While recommending an approved COVID-19 vaccine be offered without cost in The Bahamas, the Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) COVID-19 Task Force has called on the government to articulate its inoculation plans to the Bahamian people.
In a statement from co-chairs Senator Dr Michael Darville and Dr Melissa Evans, the PLP’s task force said: “After months of vaccine trials, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and now Moderna are the first to be given emergency approval in the UK, the USA and other countries around the world for the sale and distribution of their COVID-19 vaccines.
“As a result, well-coordinated immunization programs are currently being implemented worldwide and thousands of people are coming forward for inoculation.
“The Bahamas should be no different.”
The task force said it waited weeks to hear of the government’s plans to inoculate its citizens after the Pan American Health Organization advised of its intention to assist developing countries source vaccines and provide medical assistance.
The government paid $250,000 as a down payment for the first tranche of vaccines, around 80,000 doses — enough for 20 percent of the population.
“While the down payment has been made, the government has yet to confirm which vaccine will be sourced,” the PLP said.
“We are hearing whispers that it may be the Astra Zeneca vaccine produced by scientists from Oxford University, which is still in the final stages of trials and not approved for use at this time.
“While efforts are underway by the government to source the vaccine, they have not communicated a timeline for the distribution of the vaccine.
“They have also not yet disclosed their policy position as to whether the general public will be required to pay a fee for the two-dose vaccines or whether they will be administered free of charge to every Bahamian who may wish to take them.”
The government has stressed no one will be mandated to take the vaccine.
According to Minister of Health Renward Wells, the government has yet to determine whether the vaccine will be offered without cost, but he said Cabinet was in discussions on the matter.
The PLP’s task force also questioned whether the private medical community will have to source vaccines exclusively from the ministry or will be able to do so independently from reputable sources.
The statement read: “There is also the issue of the possibility of counterfeit vaccines entering the country. How does the government intend to police this possibility? We support the Ministry of Health’s position that the choice of the vaccines used in country must be safe and cost-effective.
“After much review of the medical journals and peer reviews on the ongoing vaccine trials, our task force supports a robust, well-coordinated emergency COVID-19 immunization program in the country that prioritizes all high-risk Bahamians, particularly the elderly, patients with comorbidities and those with compromised immune systems.”
It said the government must be mindful that the vaccines were produced in record time using new medical technologies, and the long-term complications remain unknown, despite short-term side effects appearing minimal.
“We are very optimistic about the possibility of reaching herd immunity in our country and understand fully what that would mean for our tourism sector and the resurgence of our local economy,” read the statement.
“But with little scientific data about the possible long-term complications, it is imperative that the minister of health put in place safety protocols and the implementation of these recommended protocols must be of paramount concern to all medical professionals within the country.”
The task force recommended prioritizing access to the vaccine for the elderly and high-risk groups, such as healthcare workers; voluntary inoculation and equitable access; free vaccinations; and the appointment of a medical research team in conjunction with Bahamian-based universities to follow a proper sample size of inoculated individuals.
It also recommended the ministries of health and education establish a campaign to dispel misinformation on the vaccine.