By Shermain Bique-Charles
About 5,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are expected to arrive on island today, a gift from the neighbouring island Dominica.
Information Minister Melford Nicholas told a Cabinet press briefing yesterday, that all necessary preparations to receive and to store the vaccines — which will be transported by an RSS aircraft — are already in place.
It was agreed that frontline workers will be among the first to receive the vaccine when they arrive in Antigua.
The injections will serve 2,500 frontline workers to include the nurses and doctors at the Mount St John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC) and the Hannah Thomas Hospital in Barbuda, the police, Immigration and Customs officers, Camp Blizzard personnel, teachers with comorbidities, and vulnerable students.
The vaccines will be administered in two doses with the second being administered 21 days after the first jab.
Beginning next week, a registry will be established that will list all those who have received the injection from the first batch.
Meanwhile, Nicholas said there’s another 40,000 doses of the vaccine that will arrive on the island soon and it will be at no cost to the state. These vaccines will be dispatched to Antigua and Barbuda as a gift from the Indian government.
Additionally, the state is still expecting another promise of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the COVAX agreement.
“So, over the next two weeks we will have about 85,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines in Antigua. This requires some forward planning and we have already begun to put measures in place on how to deploy the vaccines,” the Minister of Information said yesterday during the post-Cabinet media briefing.
“The government has already fixed these 85,000 vaccines and we are in negotiations to purchase an addition 100,000 vaccines. Over the next six weeks we are expected to have an accelerated programme where will be to inoculate 80 percent of the population,” he said.
Healthcare workers and private medical practitioners and their staff are among the second group who will be receiving the vaccines from the second dispatch to arrive.
Nicholas said that elderly citizens living in long-term care facilities as well the elderly residents in various communities and villages will also be quickly served by the vaccines.
“We know that these people are vulnerable, the population at the prisons, EMS, those at the ports of entry…these are some of the first people who will immunized,” he explained further.
Parliamentarians and Cabinet staff are also to be vaccinated.
An Education Committee has been established to teach the population of the vaccine’s importance.
The vaccines are not mandatory but the government is encouraging residents to take the jab, in the interest of protecting themselves from the deadly virus.
On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that it is reviewing the AstraZeneca vaccine in light of a South African study indicating the drug offers minimal protection against the new variant of Covid-19.
The study conducted by the University of the Witwatersrand, prompted the South African government to temporarily halt its use of the vaccines.
At the WHO’s usual Monday briefing at its headquarters in Geneva, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebryeysus called the news concerning but noted what he called “some important caveats” to that development.