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By Elesha George

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The Ministry of Health is hopeful that it will be able to focus on other areas of public health in the New Year, as COVID-19 vaccines are being made available for use.

Among the focus areas are establishing a strong vaccination programme for COVID-19, a cancer registry for the country’s control programme, implementing a national health insurance, and maintaining the elimination of the HIV mother-to-child transmission.

“Outside of COVID-19 we’ve had other things that we’ve had to sort of put on the back burner that for 2021, I want to bring those back to the forefront,” Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Rhonda Sealey-Thomas said.

“We started a very successful programme in ophthalmology with a team from Trinidad where we were providing retinol surgery right here at the mount St John’s Medical Centre. So, instead of persons having to travel to Trinidad, the surgery was actually being done at the hospital and that’s something I want to see started again at the mount St John’s in 2021,” she continued.

Meanwhile, the COVAX facility which will be providing Antigua and Barbuda with COVID vaccines secured their first doses for distribution from Johnson and Johnson Astrazeneca on Saturday.

“They’ve assured us through their communication that within the first six months of next year, countries like Antigua and Barbuda that are part of the COVAX facility would receive their doses and in fact, they’re trying start distribution as early as February of 2021,” the CMO told Observer.

While it is too soon to confirm which vaccine the country will use, handfuls of vaccines are currently in clinical trial stage. The Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) which advises the World Health Organisation on global policies and strategies are currently reviewing data for the available vaccines and those in clinical trials.

According to Sealey-Thomas, SAGE will make a recommendation to Antigua and Barbuda as to which vaccine is best suited for its population.

In the meantime, health authorities are readying themselves to receive vaccines that require extremely cold storage like the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Oxford Astrazeneca which requires more familiar storage.

“Although I’m not certain yet which vaccine we’ll be getting, we’re looking at all the possibilities and making preparations in the event that we do get one of those that need to be stored and a -70 or -20 degree centigrade,” she shared.

The CMO has also advised people who are concerned about taking the vaccine to get as much information about COVID-19 vaccines and vaccines in general.

“I really do not want to see any more deaths from covid-19 in Antigua,” she declared as she urged the public to continue to adhere to public health policies.

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