Saint Lucia, like the rest of the world, is working diligently to access COVID-19 vaccines that are safe, efficacious, and of good quality.
As a member of the COVAX Advanced market Commitment (AMC) group, St. Lucia will benefit from vaccines to cover 20% of the population in Phase 1 of the distribution process as the supply of vaccines are still limited. The focus is to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines. Whilst St. Lucia will receive its initial supply, the country will procure additional vaccines to ensure everyone who needs the vaccine receives it.
The Ministry of Health has established a COVID-19 Vaccine Committee which is planning and coordinating the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine introduction and deployment in country. Saint Lucia’s COVID-19 vaccine deployment will have a three-phased approach, targeting priority groups first, based on the level of exposure and risk to COVID-19.
In the initial phase of the program, when vaccine supply will be limited, 20% of the general population will be covered. Hence, the critical population will be targeted in the early phases of the programme. The target group includes:
Inpatient and other high-exposure Health Care Workers
High-risk first responders (Police and Fire)
Persons 65 years and older
Persons in elderly homes and caregivers
Elderly in the communities
Persons living with chronic non-communicable diseases; prioritizing those 65 years and older, then those 16 to 64 years.
In the second phase, when supply is increased, the Ministry will work with all stakeholders to ensure that all remaining Phase 1 are vaccinated and those targeted under Phase 2 of the programme. These include:
Persons of medium risk – Health Care Workers, Firemen, Policemen
International agencies personnel
Persons with Non-Communicable Diseases
During the third phase, when there will have adequate vaccine supply to cover the general population, the Ministry of Health and Wellness will focus on vaccinating the following target population:
Low risk Health Care Workers, Firemen and policemen
Rest of the population
Before vaccines are made available, the Ministry of Health must ensure that the vaccine has gone through a thorough regulatory process, and is prequalified by the World Health Organization (WHO). To date, the Pfizer vaccine is the only one which has been prequalified by the World Health Organization. Other vaccines such as Moderna and Astrazenica, have received Emergency Use Approval (EUA), and await the full prequalification from WHO. According to international agencies, such as the Global Alliance of Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and WHO, the regulatory process is in its advanced stage, and will be finalized in the coming weeks.
In light of this discussions are ongoing regarding which vaccine or vaccines will be prequalified for the Caribbean. Notwithstanding, logistics are in place to receive and deploy whichever vaccine is made available. It is expected that vaccines will be available towards the end of the first quarter of 2021.
As part of the planning, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has developed a communication strategy, using a multi-media approach. There continues to be dialogue at all levels – international, regional, and national. The communication is phased to align with the phased approach to introduction of the vaccine targeting priority groups. There is also value in reaching out to the communities, and as such Health Educators will be working with various partners at the community level.
In the initial phase, the focus will be on internal stakeholders such as nurses, physicians and other key persons; after which there will be engagement with external stakeholders. The internal sensitization has commenced and will be intensified in the coming weeks.
As St. Lucia prepares to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine introduction in the next few weeks, it is important to understand the willingness of the population to be vaccinated against COVID-19, as doubts and misconceptions can negatively impact the uptake of the vaccine. To this end, a survey will be conducted, aimed at gaining an insight into the attitudes of the population towards COVID-19 vaccination. While participation is voluntary, support is needed from everyone as the information provides an opportunity to inform efforts and strategies aimed at curbing the spread of the virus and keeping everyone safe. There will be an official media launch of the survey in the coming weeks.
The Ministry of Health and Wellness will continue to provide updates on the plans towards the COVID-19 vaccine introduction and deployment.