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To use or not to use, that was indeed the question during Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting.  Apparently, as we approached the first twenty thousand vaccinations here in Antigua and Barbuda, we were sitting on the horns of a dilemma. Our Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr Rhonda Sealey Thomas made the case in Cabinet for us to stop the vaccinations at 20,000, saving the second dose (we have forty thousand, all told) for the first twenty thousand persons that had been vaccinated.  According to the Cabinet notes, “AstraZeneca is a two-dose vaccine, and since 40,000 doses were imported, and since no precise date for delivery of a second batch of the AstraZeneca is fixed, the CMO proposed that one half of the total be stored so that the second dose can be on hand to be administered in May and in June 2021. The Cabinet debated this important proposal and decided otherwise. Seven to ten thousand doses will continue to be applied. . .” Hmmm!

It was a thorny issue, and one that must have given the authorities many-a-sleepless nights. After all, while it might seem prudent to secure the remaining twenty thousand doses for the second shot to those who’ve already been given the first shot, there is a school of thought that perhaps, since those second shots will not be needed for another twelve weeks, that we could continue the vaccinations – all forty thousand, with the hope and prayer that more vaccines will become available in a matter of days, or a week or two. Our Cabinet decided to err on the side of continued vaccinations.

Of course, it is a calculated risk, given that the demand for the AstraZeneca is so very high, and that the manufacturer appears to be barely keeping pace with that demand. For example, Jamaica only received its first shipment this past Monday, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Grenada, Barbados, Antigua and St Lucia are all awaiting more doses. And that’s just in this area alone. Nonetheless, we believe that the manufacturers are working with much dispatch to fill the demand, and at least the 40,000 doses under the COVAX facility, that we’ve already paid for, should be here very shortly. Then there are another 100,000 doses that we are looking to secure from the Indian government, for which we can easily pay. According to the Cabinet notes of March 10, 2021: “More than EC$1.5 million have been contributed by the private sector for the acquisition of Covid-19 vaccines for the population. The Cabinet expressed its thanks to those whose principals made the contribution to the treasury of Antigua and Barbuda in order to ease the burden on government, at a time when revenues are at an all-time low.” All well and good!

Now, while we can see some merit in the CMO’s position that, we ought not to get ahead of ourselves, and that prudence and patience is a virtue, and that we ought not to stretch ourselves out beyond the first and second doses in hand, we can also see the administration’s reasoning behind not wanting to break the vaccination momentum that we now have. Things are in place, and ‘wheels are turning,’ albeit rather roughly, in the first few days of the vaccination process. It would be a shame to stop now, and have to begin all over again, when the other doses of vaccines arrive. Of course, we are hoping that that will be sooner rather than later, and that there will be a seamless continuation of the vaccination effort.

             Not surprisingly, our government is looking at two Chinese vaccines, the Sinovac and Sinopharm, and the Russian Sputnik V, as other possible sources of inoculations. The thing is that our laws do not provide for the sort of Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) which is what’s needed at this point, and the data on the three phases of the trials on those vaccines are not available. In any event, and no disrespect to the Russians and Chinese, the appetite for those vaccines does not appear to be high here in Antigua and Barbuda. Things could easily change if and when more information on them become available.

             Meanwhile, we have heard that a number of private medical practitioners have applied to the Medical Council for licences to import Covid-19 vaccines. According to the Cabinet notes, “The provision of licences to doctors to import was not the function of the Council. The Council is empowered to provide licences to pharmacies and pharmacists for distribution to authorized dispensers. The doctors would then apply to those pharmacies for the imported supply which they require.” Great! Seems, there is, or there soon could be, other sources of the coronavirus vaccines here in Antigua and Barbuda, and that is a good thing. Deep-pocketed Antiguans and Barbudans could soon be paying for their own shots.

Again, we here at NEWSCO are pleased that the vaccination effort, never mind its bumbles and fumbles, will be continuing without let or hindrance . . . for the near future, and we certainly wish the administration well in its efforts. The vaccine’s the thing!We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.