SAINT LUCIA’S fight against the coronavirus took a rather promising turn on Wednesday when government rolled out its first batch of 3000 vaccines by inoculating government ministers, nurses, doctors, fire fighters and others said to be in the front lines of the fight against the virus.
The inoculation process is set for the long term as more vaccines are said to be enroute to Saint Lucia as explained by Prime Minister Allen Chastanet and Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Sharon Belmar-George who both received jabs the day of the roll out.
“We’ve been sourcing the vaccines through three different sources to ensure that we can immunize the majority of our population to allow us to have herd immunity. For the AstraZeneca vaccine the recommendation is 18 years and older so through our initial COVAX facility arrangement we’re going to be getting about 74,000 vaccines. Through India, we should be getting another 185,000 but in batches and we’re expecting to get our first batch of that this week. We’re also working through the CARICOM alliance to get our third allocation to ensure that we can provide this vaccine to the majority of the population because herd immunity is extremely important if we are to be safe and to cover especially those below 18 who would not be eligible at this point for the vaccine,” Belmar-George said.
The CMO expressed pleasure that healthcare workers who have been risking their lives and the lives of their families in caring for COVID-19 patients on a daily basis were the ones first in line for the vaccine.
“We will be at the different hospitals and we’re hoping that by Wednesday next week we could cover all of those groups but I really want to urge the public on the importance of immunization,” the CMO said.
According to her, research has shown that the vaccine is important to prevent diseases, to reduce the severe forms of the disease and the deaths associated with it.
Prime Minister Chastanet provided a reason for the inoculation of fire-fighters, nurses, doctors, police officers and other frontline workers by stating that they are irreplaceable.
“They’re the ones who are really at the forefront of fighting this battle for us so I just want to thank them all. I want to thank the Medical and Dental Association for their role in this, not only in terms of providing guidance and recommendations,” Chastanet said.
Speaking on the recovery process the prime minister said government has been able to confront COVID face on from day one. Happy that the numbers are coming down, at least less active cases are being reported on island, the prime minister cautioned about thinking that the country is in the clear.
“We are not out of the woods but we’re certainly trending in the right direction and people need to continue to practice the protocols, so wear your masks, wash your hands and the social distancing. I’m also very excited because the 3000 vaccines that we’ve received is just the beginning so we are receiving an additional dosage of about 25,000 to 40, 000 from the Indian government as a grant and we’re getting another 77,000 from COVAX which is through a UN organization and we are actively pursuing the purchase of the remaining 180,000 and I think that we’re getting close that we’ll be able to announce something very soon, but certainly I think that what we’ve achieved so far is putting us absolutely on the right track and giving people a substantial amount of hope,” Chastanet said.
“I’m certainly hoping that that hope doesn’t cause people to let down their guard. Even with the vaccine we still have to continue to practice the protocols until we know that we’ve rid ourselves of this virus,” he added.
President of the Saint Lucia Medical and Dental Association Dr. Merle Clarke called on leaders in the community to take the vaccine, explaining that it is important that they do.
“Vaccines save lives, not just this vaccine but vaccines throughout time really have saved lives, and I think just the fact that we physicians, our leaders, I think it shows a good example that if we’re willing to receive it then the rest of Saint Lucia certainly should consider receiving it because it’s going to be important,” she said, adding that for saint Lucians to beat the taking the vaccine will have to be a very important pillar in that fight.
“So I do think it is exceedingly important that all our leaders do show leadership in a sense and take this vaccine as we encourage the rest of Saint Lucia to do the same,” Clarke added.
Stating that she understands the hesitancy and apprehension of some Saint Lucians to inoculation Clarke intoned that even though the vaccine was developed with speed “the technology for these vaccines has been around, I mean everybody’s been working on it, it is a question of we are dealing with a global pandemic, something which literally has shut down the world in a sense, so everybody really was focused on that, so the mRNA technology used to develop this vaccine is not new. What is new is what is specific to this particular virus.”
She said the DNA of this particular virus was made available very early from China therefore it was just a matter of focusing on ways to create such a vaccine.
“What we want to do is prevent serious illness and death and this vaccine will allow us to do that,” Clarke said.
She received her jab that same day.
Dr. Clarke called on those vaccinated to continue wearing their masks and to abide by the protocols that help in mitigating against the spread of the virus.
“Even though we are vaccinated we certainly would still have to be wearing our masks and washing our hands frequently because again this vaccine is a two dose vaccine. The question is asked, if you have COVID-19 should you still take the vaccine? Yes you absolutely should still take the vaccine, there may be a bit of leeway because you have some immunity so you could wait six months as suggested for example, but you still need to take it and we still need to adhere to physical distancing, no partying, no large groups, wear your masks to continue to keep us safe. Eventually we will get to a place where we don’t have to but we’re not there yet,” Clarke said.