By Carlena Knight
The government has made the decision that the importation of several other vaccines will be permitted.
This means that the two Chinese vaccines, Sinopharm and Sinovac, and the Russia’s Sputnik V, once acquired, will be able to arrive and be stored in the country.
Addressing the Lower House of Parliament, on Thursday, Health Minister Sir Molwyn Joseph sought to explain the reason behind the decision.
“Whenever a vaccine gets the approval of the World Health Organization (WHO), the price skyrockets and becomes inaccessible and unaffordable. So, what the Cabinet has decided is that all the vaccines with potential for approval by these international agencies, before they are approved, we will get them and store them so that when they are approved, we would have them already at a price we can afford,” Joseph said.
He added that the late movement by the government to acquire the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine also factored into the decision to import other Covid-19 vaccines.
“If we had started earlier, we would have easily 150,000 doses of the vaccine here in Antigua and Barbuda. We waited, not until the end of the research, you know, because the research was already done.
“We waited until the approval of the UK and others and then we said ‘okay, now we can purchase’. So we have decided that all of the vaccines with the potential, we will purchase and store them. If it comes that they are never approved and they expire then we will have to dispose of them,” Joseph proclaimed.
Although the Cabinet has taken the decision to import these vaccines, the local Pharmaceutical Council has not yet given the nod of approval for them to be used.
Data on the three phases of trial for each of the vaccines — which the council requires in order to give approval — has not been forthcoming to date.
It was revealed that the nature of the 1995 law which provides for the council to either approve or disapprove the use of a particular drug does not specifically provide for the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) as requested by Cabinet.
Nicholas explained that because of this, a recommendation has been made to amend that section of the law.
The Chinese vaccines will be gifts to Antigua and Barbuda, while the initial offer by the Russian government for their vaccine as a gift is uncertain.
Nicholas added that if needs be, however, the more than EC$1.5 million which has been contributed by the private sector for the acquisition of Covid-19 vaccines will be used to purchase the Sputnik V.
He noted that despite the ongoing focus on acquiring the additional vaccines, attempts are still being made to get more doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine which has already been administered to more than 19,000 of the twin island’s residents.
Nicholas stated that the government cannot be caught up with the geopolitical debates by international countries surrounding the vaccines. He noted that it is the duty of the Gaston Browne-led administration to acquire the vaccines to help in the fight against the virus in Antigua and Barbuda.
“There is a bit, in our mind, of some geopolitics being played out in this whole scenario with the multiplicity of vaccines that are available. We are seeing the whole vaccine argument cut up along established geopolitical lines about technology and who should be primary in the whole race to the frontier.
“We cannot afford to be caught up in those winds. We are a small country. We don’t have the technology and so we are going to utilise all of our diplomatic and friendly relations to ensure that for our own purposes, and to save our own economy, that we will do the optimum to ensure that we have as many vaccines as possible,” Nicholas said.
He reiterated that the government will not force anyone to take vaccines which they may deem to be unsafe.