By Shelton Daniel
Sixty-four shots of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine against the COVID-19 disease were administered on Wednesday at the Mount Saint John’s Medical Center when Antigua and Barbuda’s nationwide programme for mass public inoculation was launched.
The five thousand doses of the vaccine which Antigua and Barbuda received as a gift from Dominica is being dispensed free of charge and only to those willing to receive it; beginning with frontline workers in the medical, healthcare, emergency services, law enforcement, military and other security services, prison staff and inmates, and persons considered most at risk for serious illness from the deadly virus.
The inoculation programme continued on Thursday with members of the Cabinet – including the Cabinet Secretary – receiving their first shots, which are to be followed by a second or booster dose some weeks later.
Speaking Thursday morning at the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing, Information Minister Melford Nicholas clarified that the five thousand doses so far obtained will not be used to inoculate only twenty-five hundred persons initially and the other half reserved for the follow up shot to these same persons. Rather, five thousand people will be given a first dose and administered their second dose when larger supplies of vaccine arrive by the end of this month and afterward.
In the meantime, members of the wider population who wish to be vaccinated when the supplies become available and the programme rolls out into the communities are being encouraged to pre-register via a special website that is being set up for this purpose.
Said Minister Nicholas: “Persons, when they are registering to take the vaccine, will be required to give their street and village address … their Social Security or Medical Benefits number, some form of ID … That will help the public health officials to determine, if you take the vaccine today, at what period of time … you would be required to return for your second dose …”
He added that the vaccine registration website is in the final stages of being configured and the link for it would be made public as soon as that process is completed; so that “persons can identify themselves and indicate their readiness to take the vaccine … You will go online and fill out electronic form that is there … The information will be accumulated by the health officials and then they in turn will be able to notify you – because you will be required to give your number and email address – of an appointed time that you can go and get the vaccine.”
Nicholas said for those persons who are not savvy or inclined where use of the internet and associated information technology (IT) is concerned, the registration could be done on their behalf. “If you have IT access devices and your neighbour doesn’t, you can allow your neighbour to utilize your facility or you can do it on their behalf; it doesn’t matter. If the person doesn’t have WhatsApp on their phone or they do not have email, they can nominate a person who can receive the notification on their behalf.”
He stated further that “each of the Parliamentary Representatives [MPs] will be asked to fan out in their communities and mobilize to get people registered in the first instance, and bring the inoculation programme within the communities … So, persons will not have to worry about where to go or to have to find travel and all those types of arrangements. We are going to get it as close to people as possible.”
Nicholas promised that “over the next six to eight weeks – even two months, three months – we will be working fastidiously to ensure that we achieve that great number” of inoculating at least righty per cent of the population in order to achieve herd immunity.