REMARKS: National Address COVID-19 Vaccine Update

Good afternoon.

Today I would like to provide you with an update on the arrival and the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in The Bahamas.

As announced Friday past, we were expecting the first batch of vaccines to arrive today; however, due to logistical issues overseas, the vaccines are scheduled to arrive this Wednesday, the 10th of March.

This first batch consists of 20,000 doses donated by the Government of India of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is also known as the Covishield vaccine.  

On behalf of the people and Government of The Bahamas, I thank the Government of India for its generous assistance.

The vaccines were pre-qualified by the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) and received Emergency Use Listing (EUL) approval by the W.H.O. 

The vaccines have also received certification from the Caribbean Regulatory System (CRS). 

The procedures used in the W.H.O./EUL approval process are rigorous and are aimed at ensuring the utmost safety and efficacy of the vaccine. 

 As I have previously stated:

The Bahamas will only accept vaccines that are pre-qualified for use by the W.H.O. and have received EUL and Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) approvals.  

The vaccines will be stored at the National Immunization Cold Storage Facility in New Providence and transferred to other islands as required.  

This state-of-the-art cold storage facility is a secure, temperature-controlled, clean and protected environment. 

The temperature of the facility can be monitored remotely and the facility has a back-up generator supply.

Fallback facilities have also been identified.

The national storage facility has the capacity to safely store hundreds of thousands of vaccines. 

To ensure maximum security, it will be under 24-hour guard by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Vaccines are designed to teach the body’s immune system to safely recognize and block a virus that causes a disease.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is a viral vector vaccine. 

This means that the virus has been altered so that it behaves like the COVID-19 virus but does not cause the disease.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is administered in two doses. 

Like other vaccines, side effects observed included mild pain and tenderness at the injection site, fatigue and mild fever.

These are very common side effects of vaccines and is a sign that the body is building immunity.

As with any vaccine, serious side effects are possible but extremely rare.

According to medical literature, no one who received the AstraZeneca vaccine was hospitalized or became seriously ill due to COVID-19.

Millions of people have already received the AstraZeneca vaccine globally. 

We know from the results that this vaccine will save lives.

Fellow Bahamians and Residents:  

The rollout of the first 20,000 doses is expected to begin days after the arrival of the vaccine. 

Because we are receiving the vaccine doses in smaller batches, we will deviate from the original plan slightly. 

Those eligible to receive these first doses will be:

• healthcare workers in the public and private sectors; 

• residents and staff of eldercare homes; and 

• non-ambulatory residents registered in the public health system.  

This first and critical priority group includes those who are our first line of defense against the COVID-19 virus and those among the most vulnerable in our population.

It is expected that healthcare workers may begin booking their vaccination appointments online within days of the arrival of the vaccine. 

Details on how the appointment process will work will be published within the next few days. 

Healthcare workers will be vaccinated on-site at their respective institutions.

Residents and staff of eldercare homes and the registered non-ambulatory will not be required to make an appointment.

Mobile units will be used to vaccinate residents and staff of eldercare homes and the non-ambulatory on-site, on New Providence and Grand Bahama. 

On the Family Islands, medical teams will administer vaccines to healthcare staff on the island and at eldercare homes and to the non-ambulatory.

A phased approach must be applied to all islands in this first batch.  

At this stage, vaccines will be administered in phases on New Providence, Grand Bahama and the Family Islands. 

The Ministry of Health and the National COVID-19 Vaccine Consultative Committee have developed a distribution plan to ensure a smooth and seamless roll out of the vaccine and to ensure equity in the distribution of the vaccine.

Ladies and Gentlemen: 

I am pleased to report that we have received a commitment from the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) that through the COVAX Facility, that The Bahamas will receive 33,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine before the end of March.  

These doses are part of the 100,800 doses which were announced last month and secured through The Bahamas’ pre-payment to the COVAX Facility.  

We have been informed that the remaining 64,200 doses through COVAX are expected to arrive in The Bahamas by the end of May 2021.   

Vaccines are in extreme demand globally and are difficult to secure.   

This means we have to be prepared to adjust as necessary based on the availability of the vaccine.

We have had to be flexible throughout the pandemic. 

It is important that we continue to exercise patience during this process.   

We are fortunate to receive these vaccines at this time.  

We are working aggressively and on several fronts to secure vaccines from approved providers as quickly as possible.

Fellow Bahamians:

We have endured for almost a year through this awful pandemic.

COVID-19 changed our way of life, harmed our economy and sadly killed 182 Bahamians.

We mourn all those who lost their lives to this virus.

We continue to pray for their families.

Though this journey has been difficult, we have learned over this long and difficult year how to fight this virus together as a people and as a Government.

We put in place public health measures such as wearing masks and limitations on mass gatherings.

The Bahamian people have largely complied with these rules.

When cases have gone up we tightened measures to save lives.

When the cases reduced, we responsibly loosened the measures to allow more openness.

Consequently, The Bahamas has had many consecutive months of low case numbers.

I admire the discipline of Bahamians, who understood the seriousness of these times.

Our opponents in the Opposition opposed at critical moments the life-saving measures that have enabled the country to keep this virus under control.

That is their choice.

But as your prime minister and because of my professional training and experience, I will always think first of saving lives.

Every decision we made during this crisis was to protect the Bahamian people.

The pandemic is not over.

As leaders around the world know, we cannot just get rid of all the health measures in one swoop.

We cannot just get rid of the curfew in New Providence as the Leader of the Opposition recently suggested.

If we stop being careful, the virus will spread more, and more people will get sick and die.

Several of our Caribbean neighbors are currently having a difficult time with the virus.

They have significant spread. 

Cases have gone up. 

More hospitalizations and deaths are occurring at this very moment.

In North America, after a period of decline there are fears that cases may rise again due to mutations of the virus.

As we continue to responsibly open up gradually, we must remain cautious to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

Federal leaders and authorities in the United States continue to emphasize the need to continue to wear masks, to avoid larger gatherings, even as vaccines are being rolled out across the country.

Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

Our path out of the emergency phase of the pandemic is twofold.

First, we must maintain our public health practices.

Second, we must vaccinate our population.  

Health officials and the Consultative Committee will continue to provide regular updates on the continued roll out of the vaccine.  

Please pay attention to updates that will confirm when it will be your turn to receive the vaccine and when you will be able to make your appointment for the vaccine. 

As we have said repeatedly, the vaccine is not mandatory. 

But I urge everyone to take the vaccine as soon as you are eligible to do so.  

Vaccines save millions of lives every year around the world.

It is important that all eligible Bahamians and residents come forward and take the vaccine.

Let me say again that the COVID-19 vaccines we will use in The Bahamas are safe.

They were scientifically tested.

They have already been given to millions of people around the world.

Taking the vaccine could save your life and that of your loved ones, friends and neighbors.

The more of us who take the vaccine, the more we can reopen our economy, including to tourists and visitors.

This will create more jobs and expand working hours.

Tourists will want to travel to places where the virus is under control.

With low COVID numbers and a high number of us taking the vaccine, we can begin to welcome the world back to our shores in high numbers.

If we are disciplined and take the vaccine, our country will be even more attractive to travelers, especially from our leading tourism market, the United States.

If we refuse the vaccine and there is a resurgence of the virus, fewer visitors will come to The Bahamas.

This virus will not magically disappear.

It is highly infectious and there are new variants.

These new mutations are dangerous and easier to catch.

Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

To prevent COVID-19 from ravaging a society and economy, countries have to vaccinate large portions of their populations as soon as possible.

This is a global pandemic that has claimed more than 2.5 million lives.

It has caused hardship for tens of millions of people.

As you have seen in the international news of late, it is also likely in the near future that you will need proof that you have been vaccinated to be able to travel.

As I have said before, please ignore the fake news about COVID-19 vaccines.

Lies and misinformation are being spread on the Internet and social media.

This nonsense is designed to make you afraid of vaccines.

Get your information from credible local and international sources.

Rather than spreading misinformation, let us encourage each other to take the vaccines so we can get back to more normal lives as soon as possible.

Encourage your families, friends and co-workers to get vaccinated.

I will take the vaccine.

I will encourage my family, friends and colleagues to do the same.

The start of our vaccination campaign marks the beginning of the end of the emergency phase of the pandemic.

There will be challenges ahead.

However, as we vaccinate increasing numbers of our people we will gradually and responsibly move away from of one of the most difficult periods in living memory.

Not being able to see the people we love as much as we would want has been hard.

Living under the fear of a deadly virus has been hard.

Grieving for those close to us who died from the virus has been hard.

Getting vaccinated is the way for us to begin to start to end these difficult and hard times.

When your time comes, I ask each eligible Bahamian and resident to come forward and get vaccinated.

Your willingness to receive this safe protection will help to end this pandemic. 

Let us encourage each other in a national spirit of love, of unity, of generosity.

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

       I want to again thank all of those on the frontlines battling this deadly pandemic.

       At the appropriate time, we will have a National Day of Remembrance and Thanksgiving.

We must remember those we have lost and their families.

We must also recall in gratitude the blessings of Almighty God and recall in gratitude the many Bahamian heroes who brought us through one of the most difficult periods in our national journey.

       After many dark days and nights, there is light on the horizon.

Let us work together to kindle this light and to make it grow brighter: by continuing to show kindness and care to others, by observing the health care measures, by taking one of the vaccines in order to help to secure the common good, and by always having a spirit of gratitude for life itself.

May God bless all of our courageous men and women on the frontlines of the pandemic.

As I prayed in my last National Address:

“During this Lenten season, let us pray to the God of New Beginnings for recovery and for healing as we look forward in the hope of Easter to resurrection and to new life in Christ.” 

May God bless you and your loved ones.

       Thank you and good afternoon.