By Elesha George
An announcement that the prime minister took the Morderna vaccine weeks before any Covid-19 vaccines became publicly available in Antigua and Barbuda, and that a private family had imported vaccines into the country for their personal use, has caused significant tension among the citizenry.
Already, a number of residents have grown skeptical with becoming inoculated, after learning that Prime Minister Gaston Browne, while promising to be the first to take the vaccine when it becomes available in Antigua, did so without public knowledge and did not disclose it until some three weeks later.
That mistrust has now stretched towards members of the Antigua and Barbuda Nurses Association (ABNA), which said in a letter that the association is “concerned and troubled that the Public Health System of Antigua and Barbuda has been grossly undermined and compromised.”
The association believes that a tried and proven Public Health Strategy of Vaccination Administration for Vaccine Preventable Diseases, was undermined due to the “clandestine actions” of the country’s leadership, along with wealthy members of the public, who were allowed to bring in their own vaccine to vaccinate themselves.
According to the letter, the Public Health System already has in place an established policy governing vaccine sourcing, distribution and storage.
“This policy embraces the entire Public Health System which includes both government and private sector institutions and practitioners, through its long standing, “Expanded Programme of Immunisation” (EPI),” the statement read.
ABNA said that the recent action has eroded public confidence and has increased public mistrust in vaccinations, and even more so, in the proposed new Covid-19 vaccine; made it much more difficult for the public health team to educate the public concerning vaccinations, especially in an already highly charged anti-vaccine environment; and has compromised the Public Health System, allowing a seeming “free for all” importation of vaccines.
In a few weeks, the government will roll out a vaccination programme, encouraging people to get inoculated using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine which is the only mass vaccine that will be available in the country currently.
However, data shows the vaccine is around seventy percent effective, compared to Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines which both show a ninety-five percent efficacy.
South Africa has stopped offering the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to its citizens following new reports that it offers minimal protection against the country’s dominant coronavirus variant.
While AstraZeneca is still recommended to be used against Covid, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) said the AZD1222 vaccine has an efficacy of 63.09% against symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection but that longer dose intervals within the 8 to 12 weeks range are associated with greater vaccine efficacy.
ABNA is now demanding that the highest efficacy vaccine be made available to the nursing health workforce and said it would “refuse as frontline workers to take the vaccine with least efficacy and which still remains questionable world-wide.”
“In addition, the ABNA opines that the recent action and policy decision belies the government’s commitment to the principles of “Universal Health Coverage” purported by the United Nations and PAHO/WHO membership of which Antigua and Barbuda is a part. The policy certainly does not support “Universal Access” to the best possible health care for people of all socio-economic status when there is a built-in discrimination with respect to efficacy and cost of the type of vaccine that will seemingly be made available to the poorer and vulnerable population of Antigua and Barbuda,” the statement read.
ABNA has therefore called on the minister of health’s Assigned Task Force, PAHO country representative and senior technical officers in the ministry of health to reconsider this decision with the view towards changing the policy decision. “ABNA is willing to collaborate with the policy makers in creating a holistic, ethical public health system to include a vaccination/immunisation policy that is fair and equitable,” the statement concluded