REMARKS: Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis Special Health Adviser to the Prime Minister, Chair, National COVID-19 Vaccine Consultative Committee Press Conference Statement


REMARKS: Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis Special Health Adviser to the Prime Minister, Chair, National COVID-19 Vaccine Consultative Committee Press Conference Statement



Good afternoon. 

Welcome to an update from the National COVID-19 Vaccine Consultative Committee on the next steps in the national rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in The Bahamas.

I am joined today by Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Pearl McMillian; Dr. Nikkiah Forbes, Director of the Infectious Diseases Program; Dr. Danny Davis, Data Management Consultant at the Ministry of Health; Dr. Frank Bartlett, and Dr. Jillian Bartlett, Senior Medical Officer, Ministry of Health.

CURRENT DATA

We are now experiencing a significant increase in new 

cases, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 at a time when there is increased travel to and from The Bahamas. 

       Genomic surveillance has identified samples with a predominance of the Alpha variant co-circulating with others, in The Bahamas. 

We are awaiting the results from 100 samples taken in July and August and sent this weekend to the FIO CRUZ research laboratory in Brazil.  

It is anticipated that we will receive the results by the end of this week, and will be able to confirm if other variants, such as the Delta COVID-19 strain, is in The Bahamas. 

Ladies and gentlemen:

Our healthcare system is overwhelmed. The morgue at the Princess Margaret Hospital is full.

On August 13th we recorded 158 new confirmed cases of COVID-19.

       Of that number 119 cases were recorded on New Providence, 4 on Grand Bahama, 24 on Abaco, 1 on Bimini/Cat Cay, 7 on Eleuthera, 2 on the Berry Islands and 1 new case on Andros.

       This brings the total number of cases recorded in The Bahamas, as of the 13th of August, to 16,430.

       There were 142 COVID-19 patients in hospital, including 13 in the intensive care unit.

       Sadly, one new death was recorded, bringing the total number of COVID-19 deaths to 313.

       There are 39 deaths under investigation. 

VACCINES

In the last two weeks The Bahamas has been very fortunate to receive a significant boost to our COVID-19 vaccine supplies.

On the 3rd of August, we received 33,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. This was the third tranche of pre-paid vaccines secured through the COVAX Facility with the assistance of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Currently, we have 19,240 remaining doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Just this past Thursday, The Bahamas received 128,700 doses of the Pfizer vaccine donated by the Government of the United States. 

The Bahamas was among the first group of Caribbean countries to receive the donation from the United States, facilitated through CARICOM and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).

This generous donation is the first in a series of batches. Over the coming months, The Bahamas is expected to receive a total of 397,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine as a part of this signification donation.

Today, I am pleased to report that The Bahamas has been notified that this coming week it will receive 38,400 doses of the single dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

VACCINATION PROGRAM

With our current supplies, and the vaccines that are in the pipeline, we now have an opportunity to significantly accelerate our vaccination program.

Last week, we were able to reopen three additional vaccination centers on New Providence. 

This allowed us to administer a total of 8,858 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine during that period. 

Sixty-one percent (or 5,446) accounted for first doses and 39 percent (or 3,412) accounted for second doses.

We are pleased to see that Bahamians and residents are turning out in large numbers to receive this life-saving vaccine.

As our supplies have increased in recent weeks, so has the demand.

Over the next week (August 16th – 20th) there are 7,514 appointments already booked. This includes 4,603, or 61%, first doses and 2,911, or 39%, second doses.

This represents 96% of the appointment slots available online up until Friday of this week. 

During the week of the 23rd of August, we anticipate that a total of 17,100 appointments will be available. 

Our goal is to fully vaccinate 60,000 Bahamians and residents over the next six weeks.

We encourage you to regularly check the vax.gov.bs website for available slots for first and second doses of the vaccine.

SLIDE: Vaccination dashboard

Since the start of our national vaccination program, we have administered 117,380 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in The Bahamas, as of the 14th of August. 

The total number of fully vaccinated people is at 51,150. This includes Bahamians and residents who have been fully vaccinated abroad and have registered on the vax.gov.bs portal.

       We have been fortunate that all of our islands and cays where people reside have had the opportunity to be vaccinated with at least one dose of the vaccine.

We know that residents of the Family Islands are eager to learn when vaccinators will return to administer second doses and more first doses of the vaccine.

From the AstraZeneca supplies that remain, second doses continue to be offered in New Providence and Grand Bahama.   Family Island residents who have already received a first dose of AstraZeneca will be offered a second dose of the same vaccine.

We have secured the infrastructure to accommodate the safe and secure transportation of the Pfizer vaccine to the islands. 

We are grateful to all our partners who have contributed to this accomplishment.  

ROLL OUT OF PFIZER

To accommodate the planned rollout of the Pfizer vaccine more vaccination centers will be added on New Providence, Grand Bahama and the Family Islands in the coming days and weeks. 

There will be additional requirements for technical, physical and human resources to ensure vaccine safety and security.

The recommended interval between doses of the Pfizer vaccine is 21-28 days. 

This will allow us to fully vaccinate more people at a quicker rate.

The Pfizer vaccine is available to everyone 12 years of age and older. 

Just as we did with the AstraZeneca vaccine, before we begin administering Pfizer to the general public we will carry out an assessment of the administration of the vaccine with an already selected group of adults and children 12 and over.

This will take place tomorrow, Monday the 16th of August. 

On Thursday, the 19th of August, we will begin administering the Pfizer vaccine to the general public beginning at the Kendal G L Isaacs Gymnasium. 

The Kendal Isaacs Gym vaccination center will be the only site administering the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday and Friday this week. 

The public may begin booking appointments tomorrow, Monday August 16th starting at 3pm for the Kendal Isaacs Gym.

The Loyola Hall, St. Anselm’s, Baha Mar (Melia) and Church of God vaccination centers on New Providence and the Susan J. Wallace Community Center on Grand Bahama, will continue to operate this week to accommodate appointments to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

SLIDE: Schedule

As part of the push to get as many shots in arms as quickly as possible the Kendal Isaacs Gym, Loyola Hall and Baha Mar (Melia) vaccination centers on New Providence will also be opened over this coming weekend, on Saturday the 21nd of August and Sunday the 22nd of August.

Pfizer will be offered at all of the weekend sites.

On Grand Bahama, an assessment of the administration of the Pfizer vaccine will be carried this coming weekend, followed by a full roll out the week of the 23rd of August. 

Family Island residents should pay close attention to the schedule updates in order to make appointments as soon as they become available. 

Visit vax.gov.bs to book your appointment online or visit one of the walk-up centers to book an appointment.

Vaccination schedules can be found at opm.gov.bs, and the Ministry of Health’s and Office of the Prime Minister’s social media platforms. 

Schedules are posted weekly and will be updated regularly. 

We will provide more information about the administration of the Johnson and Johnson vaccines in the coming days once the vaccine has arrived in country.

Ladies and gentlemen:

The Bahamas supports the position of the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization, which advises that countries can consider administering a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine followed by a second dose of Pfizer, particularly in situations of interrupted supply.  

Studies have shown that offering a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine followed by a second dose of Pfizer offers strong protection against the COVID-19 virus.

If you have received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, you will be able to book Pfizer as a second dose. 

The interval between an AstraZeneca and Pfizer regimen will follow the recommended guidelines.

If you have received a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine abroad, you may receive your second dose of Pfizer in The Bahamas. 

However, you will be required to present proof of vaccination of the first dose, and present both vaccination cards to prove full vaccination status. You will be asked to register your vaccination status on the vax.gov.bs portal to be counted in the national vaccination numbers. 

At this time, we will not be offering a third dose of the vaccine.

VACCINATING OUR SCHOOL CHILDREN

School children need to be protected to facilitate safe in-person learning. Previously only teachers and school staff were eligible to receive the vaccine.

With the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine, which has been approved for use in children 12 – 17 years of age, we now have the opportunity to vaccinate school-aged children.

If a parent or guardian wishes their age-appropriate child to be vaccinated, they may make an appointment starting on Monday the 16th of August.

Parents will be required to fill out a consent form during the appointment-making process.

Children 12 to 17 years of age must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian to the vaccination center. The parent or guardian will also be required to show an ID. 

A working group is being proposed as part of the vaccine consultative committee to ensure ongoing access to the vaccine by public and private school students.

This working group will be made up of key stakeholders and representative groups. 

More information will become available on this initiative as the Ministry of Education prepares for the safe reopening of schools in the next few weeks.

Ladies and gentlemen

Currently we are fortunate to have an adequate supply of COVID-19 vaccines. 

Now, we must significantly increase our vaccination rates while at the same time we must take personal responsibility and follow the public health measures.

Over the course of the vaccination period, we continue to receive a number of questions that contribute to vaccine hesitancy.

These include concerns about the fast-paced development of the vaccine, a risk of blood clots, harm to genetic make-up and interference with fertility.

These concerns have been put to rest by scientific reports. I want to assure you that there is no evidence to support these concerns.

For example, most recently global recommendations support the vaccination of pregnant women and those who plan to become pregnant.

Yesterday, a newborn, born on the 12th of August, tested positive for COVID-19. 

This is the second reported case of a newborn testing positive for COVID-19. 

These are the youngest case reported in The Bahamas.

Ladies and gentlemen:

We know that the vaccines save lives.

SLIDE: Hospitalizations

According to data collected at the Princess Margaret Hospital between the 14th of March 2021, at the start of the vaccination program in The Bahamas, and the 31st of July 2021, 411 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19.

Of that number, 400 were unvaccinated and 11 were partially vaccinated. 

No fully vaccinated persons were admitted to hospital for the management of COVID-19 during this period.

SLIDE: Deaths

Over that same period, 53 COVID-19 deaths were recorded at the Princess Margaret Hospital. 

Fifty-two were unvaccinated and one was partially vaccinated. There were no deaths recorded among fully vaccinated persons during this time.

Ladies and gentlemen:

The best way to protect ourselves and to prevent more surges is to get vaccinated.

We know that the health protocols work. 

It is important that everyone – the vaccinated and unvaccinated – continue to follow these protocols.

When you leave your house, wear your mask indoors and outdoors and make sure it properly covers your nose and your mouth. 

Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.

Keep a distance of 6 feet from others.

Avoid large gatherings. 

Do not gather in large groups. I cannot stress this enough. Please. Do not gather in large groups.

       We want our children to safely return to school and have in-person learning. 

       In order to do that, we must practice, individually and collectively, all of the protocols. 

And we must take full advantage of the opportunity to be vaccinated as quickly as possible.

We need all age groups to fully participate in the effort to safely return to our normal lives as quickly as possible.

Together we will combat this pandemic.

       A word to my professional colleagues. 

Today is a sad day. We have three unvaccinated healthcare workers – two physicians and a nurse – who are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

       Prior to coming here, I was informed of the death of an unvaccinated physician who died of COVID-19. 

I wish to express my condolences to the physician’s family.

In our profession, we practice according to the science. The science of medicine. 

We know now that there is no scientific merit to claims that the vaccine is unsafe. 

It is the responsible role of health professionals to become vaccinated and not to put themselves in jeopardy nor infect their families and loved ones.

I implore all to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

Thank you and good afternoon.

       I will now take questions from the media.

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