The first doses of Covid-19 vaccines look set to arrive in Antigua and Barbuda within weeks.
The shots will also be delivered to several other Eastern Caribbean countries that signed agreements with the World Health Organization-led COVAX facility. The latter aims to ensure fair and equitable access for every country to potentially life-saving inoculation.
In a written letter to each country’s Health Minister, COVAX officials said vaccines could be expected as soon as mid to late February.
As many as 357,600 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are expected to come to Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Dr Carissa Etienne, says this is just part of the hundreds of millions of doses destined for the region.
“Vaccine supply will steadily increase month on month with some 280 million Covid-19 vaccines doses expected to arrive in the Americas, including the Caribbean, by the end of 2021,” Dr Etienne, who is from Dominica, told a virtual media briefing.
“The AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines will begin to arrive in February with other vaccines, including Novavax and Johnson and Johnson vaccines, arriving starting about April 2021,” she said.
The Americas and the Caribbean region represent one fifth of the countries being supplied under the COVAX agreement.
This means that doses will be limited and will initially be available in short supply.
Dr Etienne continued to advocate for health workers and the elderly to be immunised first.
“Our first priority is to save lives and that’s why the first deployment of vaccines should go to those who are most vulnerable, like our health care workers and the elderly who are more at risk,” she said.
“This is both the right thing and the smart thing to do because it will leverage the few doses that we have initially for greater impact, preventing hospitalisations and deaths, protecting health workers and reducing the strain on our health system,” Dr Etienne added.
What is the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine?
It is a vaccine for preventing Covid-19 in people aged 18 years and older. Covid-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus. The shot is made up of another virus that has been modified to contain the gene for making a protein from SARS-CoV-2. It does not contain the virus itself and cannot cause it.
How is it given?
As two injections, usually into the muscle of the upper arm. The second dose should be given between four and 12 weeks after the first dose.
How does it work?
The vaccine delivers the SARS-CoV-2 gene into cells in the body. The cells will use the gene to produce the spike protein. The person’s immune system will then recognise this protein as foreign and produce antibodies and activate T cells (white blood cells) to attack it. If, later on, the person comes into contact with SARS-CoV-2 virus, their immune system will recognise it and be ready to defend the body against it.
How effective is it compared to other vaccines?
AstraZeneca has reported an average efficacy of 70 percent while the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has reported an efficacy rate of 95 percent. Moderna reported a vaccine efficacy of 94.5 percent.
Have there been any adverse effects?
Oxford University said there were no adverse effects, although it was reported that a volunteer died in October 2020. Due to confidentiality rules the patient’s details were not revealed, however the university said there were no concerns about the safety of the clinical trial.