Good afternoon and welcome to an update from the National COVID-19 Vaccine Consultative Committee on the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in The Bahamas.
I am joined today by Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Pearl McMillian; Dr. Indira Martin, Director of the National Reference Lab; Dr. Danny Davis; Dr. Nikkiah Forbes, Dr. Delon Brennen, and Dr. Jillian Bartlett.
The roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine in The Bahamas began on the 14th of March.
Since then, 21,907 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered at vaccination sites and by mobile units across New Providence, Grand Bahama, Eleuthera and Abaco.
Sixteen thousand nine-hundred and thirty-four (16,934) doses have been administered on New Providence; 3,512 doses on Grand Bahama; 832 on Abaco and 638 on Eleuthera.
During the 7 days of vaccine distribution from the 9th through the 16th of April, the team administered 9,546 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, for an average of 1,364 doses per day.
On our best day, the 14th of April, 1,546 doses were administered.
This week we are offering more than 4,000 appointments to the public via the vax.gov.bs portal.
Appointments are available at the Kendal G.L. Isaacs National Gymnasium, Loyola Hall, Pilgrim Baptist Church, Church of God of Prophecy and St. Anselm’s Church, starting Thursday.
Most sites are open at 9am to 3pm. The Kendal G.L. Isaacs Gym site is open from 2pm to 6pm.
There are generally two types of vaccination centers in operation.
Large centers, such as the Kendal G.L. Isaacs Gym, Loyola Hall and the Baha Mar Convention Centre and Atlantis, have the capacity to administer approximately 500 doses daily.
These sites are chosen based on the size of venue, ease of access, traffic flow and parking, and are typically appointment only sites.
The Community vaccine centers are characterized by their proximity to high density population areas, access to bus routes and pedestrian traffic.
These centers are set up to accommodate walk-up clients who may not have access to the internet to make an appointment online.
Vaccination centers were initially operating Monday to Saturday but as we expanded, the schedule was changed to Monday to Friday.
Mobile units are being used to reach resident facilities and the home-bound with physical disabilities.
The large centers are focused on throughput and efficiency while the Community sites ensure greater access to many.
As we are all aware, the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine across the archipelago is the most challenging logistical exercise faced by the public health sector in this country’s history.
The success of the distribution to date is attributed to many healthcare providers and volunteers. Rotary, Kiwanis, Red Cross and many individuals have come forward to help with this critical initiative.
We sincerely thank them for their time and commitment.
We are also indebted to the organizations that have allowed us to use their facilities, and most of all to the general public for their cooperation.
Citizens and residents:
We are in a race against time.
The pandemic is not over.
COVID-19 is continuously presenting new challenges.
At this time vaccinations alone will not get us out of this pandemic.
We must simultaneously address the increase in cases, the identification of resistant strains and adherence to the public health measures if we are to win this race and return to a sense of normalcy.
As we seek to increase access to the COVID-19 vaccine and the number of vaccinations administered, we have also been observing an increase in case numbers on a daily basis, over the last two weeks.
INCREASE IN CASES
Yesterday, we recorded 9 new confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Of that number, 8 were recorded on New Providence, and 1 on the island of Bimini.
One of those cases was imported/travel related.
This brings the total number of cases recorded in The Bahamas to 9,800.
Hospitalizations as of yesterday were at 46, including 4 in the intensive care unit at Doctors Hospital.
Of the 46 in hospital, 9 are in Grand Bahama, 37 in New Providence and the remaining at Doctors Hospital.
No deaths were recorded yesterday. Sadly, there have been a total of 194 COVID-19 related deaths.
Twenty-six deaths are under investigation.
There is a shift to the left with the age distribution of COVID-19 deaths, showing proportionate younger people are dying.
When compared to the profile of the earlier surge
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE COVID-19 VIRUS
New infections are being driven by international travel and a relaxed adherence to the health guidelines.
The emergence of variant strains of COVID-19 is of significant concern.
New strains have been identified from the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa, and most recently from India.
These variants spread more easily and are infecting younger age groups.
The cases may be more severe.
And some countries are reporting more deaths are being recorded.
We have been actively monitoring genomic testing from the 13th of March to the 17th of April.
The results, as reported by the National Reference Lab, are showing evidence of an increasing number of genomic deletions.
This is indicative of variant strains.
We must return to heightened surveillance and contact tracing if we are going to win this race in the shortest period of time.
At the same time, we have to accelerate the uptake in vaccines.
The COVID-19 vaccine provides you with the opportunity to develop an immune response to combat this infection.
Your immune response will neutralize the severity of the COVID-19 virus.
There may be side effects from the vaccine but these side effects have not shown to be life-threatening.
The monitoring of all adverse events through the ESAVI (Events Supposedly Attributable to Vaccination or Immunization) system is ongoing.
This provides for the documentation of any adverse events following vaccination.
To date, of all the doses given, there have been no hospitalizations or deaths recorded due to the COVID-19 virus in vaccinated individuals.
Following vaccination, the immune response builds up over a 90-day period, on average.
During this time, an individual may become infected with the COVID-19 virus, but is unlikely to have severe disease.
While infected, you may also transmit the virus.
For this AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine it is recommended that the second dose be given 8 to 12 weeks after the first dose.
To help control the surge in new cases, we must test, isolate, trace, treat and vaccinate.
Contact tracing is being stepped up on New Providence, Grand Bahama and the Family Islands.
All cases and contacts of cases must be identified to bring the spread of COVID-19 under control.
As part of the contact tracing process, private lab reporting requirements are also being enforced to ensure that information reaches health officials in a complete accurate timely manner.
At the same time, we are moving to accelerate the vaccination program throughout The Bahamas.
FAMILY ISLAND ROLL-OUT
We commend the work of the local health teams on the ground in Grand Bahama, Eleuthera and Abaco and most of all the public for their cooperation with this vaccine initiative.
Given the diversity of the Family Islands, we hope to incorporate the best practices and lessons learned in the early phases of this roll-out.
At this time, final preparations are underway for the full roll-out of the vaccine program in all of the Family Islands.
Health and logistics teams were deployed this morning to start carrying out reconnaissance visits in preparation for the start of vaccinations in the islands during the week of the 26th of April.
Health teams will be supported by local government officials, health administrators and community leaders.
These teams will prepare vaccination sites, secure the necessary supplies and conduct training for the online platform.
It is ambitious but we hope that this will be completed over a three-day period.
In the Family Islands, the COVID-19 vaccine will be administered to all residents 18 years and older with a Bahamian government issued ID in line with the following proposed schedule:
Monday 26 April: Andros, Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins, Long Cay, north, central and south Andros, Ragged Island and mainland Exuma;
Tuesday 27 April: Berry Islands (Great Harbour Cay), Cat Island, San Salvador and Long Island, Exuma Cays and Rum Cay;
Wednesday 28 April: North, central and south Eleuthera; and
Friday 30 April: Bimini.
We are very grateful to the United States Embassy, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the Royal Bahamas Police Force, Odyssey Aviation and Air Flight Services for assisting with air transportation of the health and logistics teams and the vaccines to and from the Family Islands during the course of the roll-out.
The location of vaccination sites, days and times for each island will be published on opm.gov.bs and will be widely circulated.
Online and on-site appointments will be available at all Family Island locations.
We are appealing to Family Island residents to make their appointments online at https://vax.gov.bs.
If you are unable to make an appointment online, ask a family member or friend for help.
The online appointment process cuts down on wait times and promotes a more efficient system.
Please stay tuned for updates related to the Family Island roll-out via ZNS TV and Radio, your local government office and the Office of the Prime Minister’s and Ministry of Health’s websites and social media platforms.
Vaccination centers on New Providence and Grand Bahama will remain open during the Family Island roll-out.
We are pleased to report that The Bahamas has been informed by the Pan-American Health Organization that it will receive the second tranche of AstraZeneca vaccines through the COVAX Facility before the end of May.
This tranche will consist of 33,000 doses. This leaves a remaining 34,200 doses to be received through the COVAX Facility.
The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is a two-dose regimen.
The administration of the second dose of this vaccine will begin on the 10thof May.
You will receive an email notification of your scheduled time to receive the second dose.
Once you are notified you should make your appointment online at https://vax.gov.bs
Please wait until you have received your notification to make your appointment.
As mentioned earlier, an 8-12 week period is recommended between the first and second doses.
If you did not make an appointment online, present your yellow vaccination card to the vaccination center where you received your first dose to make an on-site appointment.
Upon full vaccination you will receive an electronic certificate with a QR Code.
For residents unable access an electronic certificate, please contact the nearest public health clinic and efforts will be made to provide a hard copy of the certificate.
Vaccination is a critical element in controlling the spread of COVID-19 and bringing an end to the pandemic.
We are making progress.
But our work is far from over.
To help slow the spread of the COVID-19 vaccine we must redouble our efforts.
This is no time to relax.
We must continue to practice the public health measures.
Avoid large gatherings.
Abide by the Emergency Orders.
Wear your mask properly – over your nose and your mouth.
Keep a distance of six feet from others when you are out.
Wash or sanitize your hands regularly.
And when you are eligible, get vaccinated!
The sooner we get vaccinated, the sooner we can fully open our economy.
The sooner we get vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to work.
The sooner we get vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to enjoying the activities we love, like Junkanoo.
I say to you, each one help and together we will get through this pandemic.
Ministry of Health officials and the Consultative Committee will continue to provide regular updates on the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.
We encourage the public to use the Ministry of Health’s and Office of the Prime Minister’s official websites and social media platforms, and credible news sources to keep up to date and properly informed about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Thank you and good afternoon.
I am happy to take questions from the media at this time.