By Orville Williams
The government has acknowledged that closer to 100,000 vaccine doses will be required to properly inoculate the population, rather than the 20,000 already secured through the COVAX facility, co-led by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) announced this week, that countries in the Caribbean have been notified of their estimated dose allocation for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The agency also noted that some countries could start receiving said allocations “from the second half of February, through the second quarter of 2021.”
Antigua and Barbuda is already down for 20,000 vaccine doses, with payment already made several months ago. However, that will prove a mere ‘drop in the bucket’, as far as thorough inoculation is concerned.
Information Minister Melford Nicholas shared that sentiment, during this week’s post-Cabinet media briefing.
“The 20,000 would not be sufficient [as] we have a population of over 100,000. The ideal situation [is], we would reach that level of immunity when approximately 80 percent of the population is inoculated. So clearly, our number would be pretty much closer to 80,000 or 100,000 instances where we can have those vaccines.
“Now, to be able to get to that position, we have to have a starting point. If in the initial case we are fortunate to get the 20,000 vials, then what we’re looking at is treating those frontline workers – to include now, our teachers as well – and other critical personnel who have to be at the forefront of this risk”, Nicholas said.
Vaccine acquisition remains a big hurdle for many countries, with larger nations accused of hoarding available doses and causing an imbalance of sorts in the global system. Several smaller nations have indicated that they will or have already opened independent talks with other countries and even vaccine manufacturers to secure additional doses.
Nicholas confirmed that the Antigua and Barbuda government is looking to take a similar route, but said there were no such agreements in place as yet.
“There are not yet any locked-in bilateral arrangements with any other countries and so we’re working furtively behind the scenes, to ensure that we can equip ourselves accordingly.”
Meanwhile, a vaccine education programme is said to have already been underway and Nicholas added that it will kick into higher gear once the vaccines have been delivered.
“The Ministry of Health had begun an education programme and I think they had co-opted a number of private medical professionals as well, to assist in responding to an anti-vax sentiment that seems to be out there and may have gotten some legs locally.
“So, there is going to be a massive public education programme and it will intensify once we actually have the vaccines in place. [There] would have [been] photos of the vaccine storage facility built at Barnacle Point and all of the necessary preparation is being done, but in terms of when the programme is going to hit the road, it will be closer to the time when we have the vaccines.”