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SVG to receive free COVID-19 vaccines

SVG to receive free COVID-19 vaccines
CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER Simone Keizer-Beache

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by Bria King

St Vincent and the Grenadines will receive COVID-19 vaccines free of cost for the immunisation of about 20 per cent of its population, when the vaccines become available.

This is being facilitated through the global COVAX facility, which aims to provide equitable access and affordable options for all participating countries to access the vaccines.

The cause is co-led by GAVI— the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“We had to submit an introduction plan. We had to submit a request for technical assistance and we had to do the official COVID vaccine request form, and we did all of those things already,” Dr Simone Keizer-Beache, SVG’s chief medical officer (CMO) told SEARCHLIGHT this week, outlining the requirements that needed to be met in order to benefit from COVAX.

She explained that it is the facility’s intention to provide free vaccines to Advance Market Commitment (AMC) countries for 20 per cent of the population.

Keizer-Beache added that additional vaccines outside of that 20 per cent will have to be bought, but through COVAX, these countries will be able to buy them at a reduced rate.

Already, the United Kingdom has begun the immunisation process for its citizens, with Margaret Keenan, a former jewellery shop assistant who turns 91 next week, being the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday.

According to time.com, the rollout of these first doses of the vaccine is the beginning of what is to be a global immunisation programme that is expected to gain momentum as more serums are approved.

Phase one of this rollout focuses on the prevention of mortality and the maintenance of the health and social care system.

As such, the top three priority groups in this phase of the immunisation exercise in the UK include residents in a care home for older adults and their caretakers; all those 80 years of age and over; and frontline health and social care workers; and all those 75 years of age and over.

Health authorities in SVG have also identified the priority groups locally, in preparation for the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines.

Keizer-Beache said these key groups include frontline healthcare workers, persons with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, which make them more vulnerable and persons over 65 years of age.

“…We have already developed a plan where we have vaccines being delivered in three stages. So, the first set of vaccines we get, we have already identified what proportion of those key populations would get that first set. Stage two, would be another proportion of those key populations and then stage three would be the remainder of those key populations and others,” the CMO explained.

She noted however that 20 per cent of the population accounts for approximately 21,000 people – which will be covered by the free vaccines to come from the COVAX facility.

The entirety of the identified priority groups in SVG account for approximately 54,000 people.

This means that SVG will need to acquire more vaccines if all persons within the priority group are to be immunised against COVID-19.

“So, that difference of 30,000, we are already seeking to get funding for those additional vaccines. We intend to seek additional funding and financing to buy more. We have already, through CARPHA, EU been able to secure some funding to go towards that portion not provided by COVAX for free,” Keizer-Beache said.

Since the conversation about the development of the COVID-19 vaccine began, people across the world have debated whether or not they will take the step towards being immunised.

Another key component of the COVAX facility speaks to public education as it relates to instilling confidence in the people, with the aim of accepting the vaccine.

SVG’s CMO also told SEARCHLIGHT that local health authorities have also begun working on this public education aspect.

She said it is the intention to involve key movers in the process including the church, non-governmental organisations and other key groups to facilitate discussion and get as many people as possible to gain more knowledge about the vaccine.

“Continue to learn from reputable sources. There’s alot of fake news, a lot of inaccurate information out there about the vaccine — from the chip being inserted in you and all of that other stuff. We just ask persons to try and get as wide a range of background information as we move towards acquiring the vaccines,” Keizer-Beache said.

She added that it was important for persons to understand the more Vincentians that take the vaccine is the safer the entire population will be.

But as it stands now, local health authorities prefer that the process to be immunised against COVID-19 be a voluntary one.

“…Our aim is that it not become mandatory. We don’t want to make it a mandatory option. That is not our first choice,” the CMO said.

Dr Rufus Ewing, the Advisor of Health Systems and Services at the PAHO ECC Office virtually addressed a handover ceremony yesterday in SVG.

While delivering his remarks, he said SVG is one of 10 countries in the Americas and 92 countries globally that are eligible for AMC support, which means that they do not have to make a down-payment to the COVAX facility.

The other countries in the Americas to benefit from free vaccines include Bolivia, Dominica, El Salvador, Grenada, French Guiana, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and St Lucia.

Ewing congratulated SVG on meeting the requirements to access COVAX and pledged PAHO’s support to the country in its quest to acquire vaccines.

“PAHO stands ready to support St Vincent with the procurement of the COVID-19 vaccine through the PAHO revolving fund and with PAHO’s technical guidance, we’ll support regulatory approval processes, post market surveillance of new vaccines and will continue to strengthen health readiness and immunisation programmes to facilitate the rapid deployment of COVID-19 vaccines,” he said.

He added that this “must be balanced against the challenges member states are facing in sustaining their routine immunisation programmes as an essential health service”.

It was initially estimated that countries like SVG acquiring the COVID-19 vaccine through the COVAX facility will receive the first batch within the first quarter of 2021.

Keizer-Beache told SEARCHLIGHT she is hopeful that this timeline will be maintained.

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