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Still no date for COVAX vaccines’ arrival – but China and Russia offer their jabs to A&B

By Carlena Knight

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Two major vaccine producing countries have indicated their interest in supplying Antigua and Barbuda with Covid-19 vaccines.

Cabinet spokesman Melford Nicholas said on Thursday that China and Russia have recently expressed their interest in disbursing additional vaccines to the twin island nation.

Nicholas explained that before any further steps can be taken, the local Pharmacy Council must first give approval for these vaccines to be used here. That decision, Nicholas explained, may be forthcoming within a few weeks.

“We have had offers from both the Chinese and Russian governments for access to their vaccines but of course, the local council must give that approval first,” Nicholas said.

 “Everything starts with the approval that must come from the council of professionals that are looking at [vaccines]. They are the ones that will give the first indication and, provided that they approve the vaccines for inclusion in the mix, then the next option would be for the government to move towards procuring.”

Regarding the process of acquiring additional vaccines from India, Nicholas shared that that matter is not set in stone due to the high demand in India itself.

He said the acquisition of a specific number of doses needed from India may be the biggest issue. Because of this, Nicholas explained that the approval from the Pharmacy Council will help in the government looking at a number of options from other countries.

“The whole issue of procuring another 100,000 vaccines from India is subject to availability so we don’t have any assurance but that is our desire. That was the first approved vaccine by the World Health Organization (WHO) so clearly if we get it in one swoop from one particular jurisdiction then that would have been okay but that may not turn out to be the reality.

“So, the approval that we are waiting on to look on the consideration of other vaccines that may become available, such as the Chinese Sinopharm and Russian Sputnik, and if those become available and are ready for purchase or even as a gift from another friendly government then, clearly, we will have additional options to reach herd immunity,” Nicholas added.

This is the same scenario for the 40,000 vaccines that the country should receive from COVAX.

The Medical Director of Mount St John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC) pointed out that the global demand for the COVAX supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine is “extremely high” and, because of this, the Pan American Health Organization has not yet been able to provide a precise date of delivery.

Nicholas however indicated that if the acquisition of other vaccines and the 40,000 doses from the COVAX programme does not make it in time for the required second jab for individuals, then they will halt at the 20,000 mark for the first jab and offer the remainder as the second dose for residents who have received their first shot.

“That determination will be made. It could well happen that we receive the additional 40,000 within that stage and so we will be able to accelerate to ensure that 40,000 persons can be given their first dose but we are not there yet,” he said.

“I think we are somewhere in the vicinity of maybe 7,000 to 9,000 persons being vaccinated and we will await the arrival. There are a number of factors that are moving. We want to ensure that we have the vaccines from the COVAX facility in the mix and that gives us the opportunity to extend quickly out to 40,000 persons.

“Should there be a further delay and it gets closer to the interval of 20,000 we may have to halt to ensure that we can satisfy the second dose,” Nicholas added.

Antigua and Barbuda rolled out its Covid-19 vaccination programme last month. To date, upwards of 6,000 residents have received the first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and the second dose must be administered approximately 12 weeks after the first jab.

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