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By Orville Williams

With just over 27,000 persons vaccinated for Covid-19 so far, Health Minister Sir Molwyn Joseph is looking ahead to the second phase of the mass vaccination effort as “the most important”.

Sir Molwyn was on site at the VC Bird International Airport yesterday to receive 24,000 doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, secured through the COVAX facility. That marked only the second shipment of vaccines toward the public vaccination programme, following the 40,000 doses donated by the government of India earlier in March.

Speaking during the brief welcome ceremony, Sir Molwyn talked up the importance of reaching the coveted herd immunity threshold – once 80 percent of the population is vaccinated – so as not to be playing catch-up to most of the country’s major tourism source markets.

“This is the most important phase we’re entering now, because unless we achieve herd immunity in Antigua and Barbuda, we are not going to be on the level of the developed countries, on whom we rely for our business.

“Our markets – the United States and the United Kingdom – within a matter of two or three months, they would have achieved herd immunity [and] we must not be left behind.”

From the 24,000 doses received yesterday, the Health Ministry says 14,000 will be “separated…to replenish vaccines that were utilised under Phase 1 of the national Covid-19 vaccination programme. This will ensure that all 27,000 doses are in place for second doses in May.”

Therefore, first doses under the second phase of the vaccination programme will be administered using the remaining 10,000 doses.

Residents won’t have to wait very long to receive their first vaccine doses under the second phase, which is scheduled to commence next week, on April 13. Sir Molwyn also stressed that, now the vaccines have been secured, the responsibility has been passed onto the population to go out and get vaccinated.

“We must also achieve herd immunity in Antigua and Barbuda and it is not going to be because this government failed to give the opportunity for people to get their vaccination. [So], as the Minister of Health, I’m sending out a clear invitation to all Antiguans and Barbudans to make themselves available to be vaccinated.

“We will get the vaccines, but we cannot succeed unless the citizens and residents of this country come out and be vaccinated.”

Starting next Tuesday, the vaccination sites under the second phase of the public vaccination programme will be the Glanvilles Polyclinic, the Multipurpose Culture and Exhibition Center, the Precision Center in Paynters and the Villa Polyclinic.

These sites will operate on Mondays through Fridays, from 9 am to 3:30 pm.