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Health Minister issues vaccination challenge

Health Minister Nickolas Steele - vaccination is a must

The only way out of the COVID-19 plague is through vaccination.

This statement was made by Health Minister Nickolas Steele Tuesday in reiterating what is required from Grenadians to return to some form of normalcy on the island, amidst what appears to be a reluctance to vaccination for protection against the deadly coronavirus.

Addressing the government’s weekly Post-Cabinet media brief in St George’s, Minister Steele expressed his dissatisfaction with the slow pace of vaccination, noting that only 9503 persons have received COVID-19 inoculation, since the vaccination programme commenced approximately five (5) weeks ago, with the India-made AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

The senior government minister disclosed that with a rate of about “1800 vaccinations per week” it will take an estimated “nine (9) months” to reach the desired goal of vaccinating at least “60%” of the population to return to some form of normalcy.

“In my opinion…that’s an unacceptable time frame and as such what we need to recognise is that while 9500 of us have stepped up, recognising the benefits, that the only way out of the COVID-19 plague is through vaccination, we need to get many more,” he said.

Minister Steele used the opportunity to propose an “each one bring five” challenge to those who have already accepted the vaccine, in a request that came weeks ahead of the 19th annual Vaccination Week in the Americas, which will this year focus on building trust and confidence in the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

The event will be celebrated from April 24-30 under the theme, “Vaccines bring us closer. #GetVax.”

“I am issuing a challenge or a request to all of us who have already accepted the vaccination to adopt a policy of each one bring five…because in many cases, it’s not about what the Ministry of Health, Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) or the World Health Organisation (WHO) is saying, it’s about what our friends are saying and if we can convince our peers, friends (and) neighbours, speak to them explaining our reasons for taking the vaccine, they (will) have significant trust in each of us,” he told reporters.

“I think for us to issue a challenge as a nation, friends, colleagues, whether it is from churches, sharing the same church, neighbourhoods, hobbies (or) being part of the same organisations…that we make a drive that between now and then (Vaccination Week), we can add another 15 to 20, 000 individuals vaccinated in Grenada – that works out to an average of instead of 1800 per week to 5000 per week and the Ministry is capable of supporting that,” he said.

Minister Steele went on: “All of our vaccination sites (and) medical centers are open and are available for vaccination as well as the Radisson (Hotel) and (the) Bruce Street Mall and we will go wherever there is a group that says they as a group would like to assemble to get vaccinated, whether it is a cricket or a football team…”.

Additionally, the Health Minister expressed concern with Grenada lagging behind in comparison to the rest of the Eastern Caribbean countries, making specific reference to Barbados, which has vaccinated “61, 000 people, Dominica 13, 000, Antigua 25, 000 (and) St. Lucia, 20, 000.”

He pointed out that with a significantly lower vaccination rate, Grenada will be behind as these countries will be able to “enjoy a better life faster.”

“Colleagues, we are being left behind by our OECS brothers and sisters (and) we will see them enjoy a better life faster, we will see them open up to tourism, we will see them having their carnivals (and) being able to circulate without having to wear masks or with little or no limitations at functions and gatherings et cetera,” he said.

The Minister also announced that a cooperation agreement was signed between the Government of Grenada and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, which will facilitate the registration and distribution of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Grenada and member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

As part of the agreement, the region is expected to receive an initial supply of up to one (1) million doses of the Sputnik V adenovirus vector vaccine, developed by Russia’s Gamaleya National Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology for SARS-Cov-2 (COVID-19).

Grenada’s diplomatic mission in Moscow is the only fully accredited mission of CARICOM in the Russian Federation and the island will serve as a local centralised distribution point for the region.

According to Minister Steele, while “we will have another shipment (of AstraZeneca) down the road…there will be shipments of Sputnik and Sinopharm (the China-made COVID-19 vaccine) as part of the COVAX facility, a global effort between the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance Gavi, UNICEF, PAHO, and WHO.

Information obtained on the PAHO website indicates that Grenada is one of six (6) Caribbean countries, including Dominica, Guyana, Haiti, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines that will receive vaccines under the COVAX facility free of charge.

On March 15, Jamaica became the first Caribbean country to get COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility, with an initial shipment of 14, 400 doses.