NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Former Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands suggested yesterday that The Bahamas should independently evaluate the vaccine that will be chosen to be distributed throughout the country.
Sands’ comments come just days after the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use authorization.
“This is an unprecedented rollout of a vaccine in record time and certainly it’s a good sign,” he said in an interview with Eyewitness News.
“The fact that there was a methodically objective evaluation of the vaccines done by independent scientists, at the FDA and other thinktanks, bodes well for confidence.
“However, a vaccine is not going to have any real impact on the trajectory of this pandemic for many months.”
Sand noted that while the availability of a vaccine is “welcome news”, there must be continued monitoring of the vaccine, and health professionals must determine whether the safety profile remains unchanged as tens of thousands to millions of people are vaccinated.
“I think The Bahamas will have to have an independent entity evaluate whichever vaccine we end up using, whether it’s the Moderna, Pfizer or Oxford University vaccine,” he said.
“Whichever vaccine we use, there will have to be a process where we, as a sovereign nation, evaluate the data to determine that it is indeed the right fit for The Bahamas.
“That evaluation should obviously include public health persons, persons from the medical fraternity, nursing fraternity or sorority, as well as other important players in civil society.”
The former health minister insisted it is important that health officials determine whether or not the safety profile of the vaccine holds up over time, given the fact that it has been developed in such a short period.
He said: “We simply don’t have that information and as we accrue additional patients that receive the vaccine, we will learn more and more about safety.”
Sands further questioned how the government plans to procure the vaccines, how many people will be involved in the campaign to get people vaccinated relatively quickly and how the costs will be factored into the government’s budget.
The Bahamas is a part of the COVAX Facility convened by Gavi, CEPI and the WHO (World Health Organization), which will afford countries in the region the best opportunity to fast-track access to COVID-19 vaccines.
The COVAX Facility offers access to a basket of 15 possible vaccines.
The government has estimated the 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.
Additionally, the government is currently in direct negotiations with several international pharmaceutical companies who have produced COVID-19 vaccines.
Asked whether he believes an additional approval process is necessary, given the WHO’s approval mechanism, Sands said: “I think it’s very important that even though we piggyback on the technical expertise of other countries, that we need to do some type of evaluation because every single country is unique in terms of its needs, in terms of its capacity, its infrastructure, etc.
“So, we need to determine whether or not our healthcare infrastructure and our demographics are a good fit for vaccine A, B or C.”
The United States joined Britain, Bahrain, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico in recently approving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in-country.
On Tuesday, the United Kingdom became the first nation to start vaccinating its citizens with a fully vetted and authorized COVID-19 shot.