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25% of Population Vaccinated, 40% Needed by December

Will Saint Lucia reach the World Health Organisation (WHO) target of vaccine coverage of 40 percent of its population by December 2021?

With only 25.1 percent of its population fully vaccinated currently, which is 45,521 Saint Lucians who have completed the full vaccine regimen, it is very unlikely that Saint Lucia will reach that milestone.

The WHO, to ensure equitable global vaccine rollout, had targeted COVID-19 vaccine coverage to be 40% by December 2021, and 70% by June 2022. Whilst some countries have achieved the 40% target, others, like Saint Lucia, are still behind.

The Ministry of Health, Wellness and Elderly Affairs says it remains steadfast in its response to the pandemic calling on Saint Lucians to protect themselves and loved ones from COVID-19 by vaccinating.

The Ministry is now advertising the booster shot, which the National Immunization Program introduced approximately one month ago.

The COVID-19 booster is an additional dose administered to increase the body’s immune response, and further help extend the protection gained from the first two doses.

At the time of introduction, only the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine was offered to persons who received their complete regimen of Astrazeneca over six months ago. However, over the past few weeks, there have been further developments, meaning that the Astrazeneca COVID-19 Vaccine is now offered as a booster.

National Immunization Manager, Tecla Jn Baptiste
National Immunization Manager, Tecla Jn Baptiste

“The WHO supports an extended primary series with an additional vaccine dose for COVID-19 vaccination especially for individuals with immunocompromising conditions. While the booster is recommended for the high-risk population, other individuals can come forward for the booster dose. To date 1309 booster doses have been administered. Saint Lucia is nine months into the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines. As of Monday November 22, 2021, a total of 53, 818 doses of vaccines have been administered,” National Immunization Manager – Tecla Jn Baptiste said.

She said that both the AstraZenaca and Pfizer NioNTech vaccines are available at all vaccination sites in the country.

Regarding the Pfizer BioNtech Jn Baptiste noted that it was initially approved for persons 18 years and older; then subsequently for 12 to 17 year olds.

“We hear of approval in some countries for children 5 to 11 years and as such, there has been many inquiries regarding the introduction of Pfizer to this age group. Saint Lucia continues to rely on the recommendations of the World Health Organization for guidance on vaccines and vaccination. To date, WHO/PAHO does not recommend any COVID-19 vaccine to be used in persons younger than 12 years,” Jn Baptiste said.

She noted that the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer was approved by the United States FDA for paediatric populations (children aged 5-11) on October 29, 2021 and then recommended by the CDC. Further, various countries in the Caribbean region are considering vaccinating children younger than 12 with the Pfizer vaccine.

“Whilst the national regulatory agency of each country has the authority to issue this approval; it is important to note that the paediatric Pfizer vaccine has a different formulation and dosage than the Pfizer vaccine authorized for adults.

“The vaccine authorized for use in children aged 5-11 includes the same mRNA and lipids, but different inactive ingredients compared to the vaccine that is used in individuals aged 12 or older. The paediatric and adult preparation also differs in dosage, and reconstitution,” Jn Baptiste said, adding that children cannot receive a fractionated dose of the adult Pfizer vaccine in place of a paediatric dose.

“In order to launch vaccination for this age group, Saint Lucia must receive the paediatric vaccine doses. In light of this, Saint Lucia awaits the approval from the World Health Organization before introducing to this target group. In the interim, the Ministry of Health, Wellness & Elderly Affairs has begun the necessary arrangements to access and procure the Paediatric Pfizer vaccine,” Belmar-George said.

The Ministry appeals to the citizenry to continue accessing vaccines at the nearest vaccination site, including all the Wellness Centres stating that vaccines save lives and are the most cost-effective intervention against infectious diseases.

“Until widespread vaccination has been achieved, both vaccinated and unvaccinated persons are urged to adhere to the infection prevention and control measures required to control the pandemic,” the country’s Immunization Manager said.

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