The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is hoping to procure enough vaccines for 70,000 persons or just about 70% of the population.
Chief Medical Officer Simone Keizer-Beache told a press conference on Tuesday that Kingstown is working with the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the COVAX facility to procure the vaccine.
COVAX is the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.
The ACT Accelerator is a ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.
“As it is now, we are still aiming to have the vaccine which would be made available to us here in the first quarter.”
She said there was a recent meeting of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and PAHO in terms of seeing what is available.
“… with the COVAX, which vaccine we would get has not been determined. COVAX allows for access to all of the vaccines that are available — and most of them and the ones we will get in St. Vincent will depend on the availability, it would also depend on the characteristics we ask for,” Keizer-Beache said.
“We are asking for sufficient vaccines to immunise 70,000 Vincentians, basically 70% of our population,” she said, adding that under the COVAX facility, sufficient vaccines for 20,000 Vincentians will be given to SVG free of cost.
“… that is the intention, though I must caution that as yet the COVAX facility has not been able to get all of the funding they need to be able to meet all of the commitments they have made. They are still seeking funding. The goal is $5 billion.
“So, for now, St. Vincent is going to get 20,000 and we are going to buy, as a country, with funding from different agencies, local funding, and additional, sufficient for 50,000 vaccines. That is the plan.”
Regarding rollout of the vaccine, Keizer-Beache said her ministry has already started working with healthcare providers.
“We are seeking to contract a consultant to do the most important part, which is the communication, which is letting people understand what is happening, how it will happen.”
She said that luckily, for St. Vincent, as with most of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States and CARICOM countries, there is an excellent primary healthcare system, which allows for efficient delivery of vaccinations.
“Granted, that is a vaccination system that is targeted mainly towards children and the school health programme, but the mechanism, the structure exists so that we do not anticipate, in terms of some other challenges we are seeing in some other countries, that we will have that challenge in terms of rollout.”
Keizer-Beache said her ministry is in the process of procuring ultra-cold vaccine fridges to store the vaccine and also transport vehicles to move the vaccine from place to place.
“So in terms of the procurement, the storage and the distribution, those are things that we are working on already and we anticipate that we should have it.
“Our greatest challenges, we acknowledge, would be the uptake, because we do not, at this point, intend for it to be a mandatory thing, but rather a voluntary [thing] and we are asking Vincentians to get the information from credible sources so that they will be willing to take the vaccine when we have it, and it will be free of cost,” she said.