BASSETERRE, St.Kitts (Friday 5th February 2021)- “I want to share the bigger picture. It would be nice if we can go through this pandemic with just a few cases and not experience any cluster of cases or community transmission. We can do so if we hold strain and continue doing what we have and even be more effective in doing what we have been doing until we gain access to the vaccines and start to roll out the vaccines because once [we] start vaccinating our population, the individuals who are vaccinated, they would develop some level of immunity having received the vaccine and so if we are exposed to the virus, it would not take hold; we wouldn’t get clusters, we won’t get community transmission…”
So said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Hazel Laws during her presentation at the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) COVID-19 Briefing on Wednesday 3rd February 2021.
Dr. Laws at the time was speaking about the way forward for St.Kitts-Nevis in tackling COVID-19 while on the subject of vaccination in appealing to the understanding of the public on the health issue as St.Kitts-Nevis gets ready to receive over 20,000 doses expected sometime this month through the COVAX facility.
Dr. Laws said the Minister of Health [Akilah Byron-Nisbett] recently “received a letter from the office of COVAX facility providing information regarding the first [batch] of the COVID-19 vaccine that we will receive through this facility. So we were informed that we can expect to be distributed and indicative number of dosages of the AstraZeneca and Oxford University vaccine.”
Dr. Laws continued:“We have been allocated 21, 600 doses which will provide coverage for approximately 20 % of our population. The start date of delivery can be as early as mid to late February. However , they were very particular in noting that this estimated delivery time is subject to change; it depends on a number of factors and some of these factors include the World Health Organization Emergency Listing approval process and completion of the next step. For example, the implementation of our vaccination Deployment Plan and all regulatory preparedness.”
She reminded that the federation has signed on to the COVAX facility noting that it is “a global mechanism which was developed to help participating member states gain access to these vaccines. When you look at CNN and BBC, you would realize that it is only the bigger countries to date, they are the only ones who have received vaccines. Smaller territories like ours, we can gain access to the COVAX facility.”
According to Dr. Laws, the estimated supply schedule indicates that 25 to 35% of this amount will be supplied by probably towards the end of the first quarter and 65-75 % in the second quarter of this year.
“The plan is to access enough vaccines that provides coverage for at least 20% of our population in the first instance and then the ultimate goal is to attain a coverage that approximates the herd immunity threshold. The science is still out on that but based on what we know about vaccination and herd community, it can be about 70, 75, 80% so it really would be ideal if we can achieve the herd immunity threshold. If we do this would reduce the risk of clusters of cases occurring and even the community transmission.” the CMO stated.
Dr. Laws said it is important to note that the Federation is also seeking access to COVID-19 vaccines through other mechanisms.
“.. and in particular, we are seriously exploring access to these vaccines through two other mechanisms. Access to the COVID-19 vaccines is crucial to curbing the spread of COVID-19 infections and our economy and the economies in the Caribbean region and further afield.”
In providing general details on COVID-19 vaccines development, approvals and access, she said to date there are 63 vaccines candidates in clinical developments and about 16 have reached the stage of phase 3 clinical trials whereby they seek to get all the medical information regarding the vaccine candidates.
“Now 13 vaccines which have completed some level of phase 3 trials, their data have been submitted to the World Health Organization for consideration under the EUL assessment process- Emergency Use Listing, so three vaccines have been submitted for consideration as we speak…only one vaccine candidate has already been approved by the World Health Organization under the EUL system and that is the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The AtraZeneca + Oxford Vaccine is close behind. It is expected to be approved within the first week of February so that’s anytime now.”
The CMO said it is important to note that there are some Caribbean islands that have already received approved vaccines.
Dr. Laws informed that the United Kingdom overseas territories which include Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks & Caicos along with Guyana have already received their first batch of the vaccines.