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Time running out for vaccination

Nurses administer AstraZeneca shots during a health fair at the Esplanade Mall. St George's

Grenada’s Ministry of Health now has less than two months to utilise thousands of doses of vaccines before the country’s supply of AstraZeneca expires.

The vaccination programme has not gone as well as the government had hoped and on Tuesday Health Minister Nicholas Steele said they still have thousands of doses of AstraZeneca that are about to expire on June 27.

Minister Steele described the current situation as a national failure.

“We are coming here today to say we have not been successful with the vaccination programme with respect to the uptake and that has been a collective failure on us all, that it is not just the Ministry of Health,” he told reporters at a post-Cabinet press conference.

“I am here to say that we have not been successful and that is a collective, national failure because it takes all of us,” he said.

AstraZeneca has a six months shelf life but a medical expert has told THE NEW TODAY that by three months a vaccine loses its optimum effectiveness.

The Minister of Health urged Grenadians to go out and get vaccinated before May 17, in order for more than thirty thousand doses that Grenada still has stockpiled to be utilised.

He said in order to meet the time requirements for getting the second of the two-dose vaccine those who have never received a dose must do so by that date.

The most recent figures show that only 5775 people have been fully vaccinated with the double dose of AstraZeneca and 13,744 people have received the first dose.

Medical experts on the island have said they are aiming for a 70 percent vaccination rate while on Tuesday the Health Minister said the State’s target is sixty thousand people.

Those numbers are expected to provide the population with a high enough level of immunisation through vaccination.

But time is running out to achieve this with the current stock of vaccines on hand and Minister Steele said that Grenada’s ability to source more vaccines could be hampered if thousands of doses of the vaccine have to be thrown away.

“With respect to vaccine procurement, having a slower rate of vaccination or vaccine uptake means that with replacements we have to order in smaller amounts.

“Grenada’s national demand is already a very small amount. And also, certain facilities like the COVAX are going to be slower to respond to us, especially if by the end of June we have not used all the vaccines that we had allocated to us.”

The island received forty-five thousand doses through COVAX with an expectation that it will cover about 20 percent of the population and at current vaccination rates only six percent of that target has been reached.

An earlier batch of six thousand doses had also been independently sourced by the Ministry of Health.

In the case of the COVAX vaccines, Grenada will either have to return them before they expire or ensure that they are used locally or else the country will not receive more through that source, a medical doctor explained to THE NEW TODAY.

Health officials are worried that if the current supply is not used before the set targets are achieved Grenada may find it difficult to source new supplies, especially given the shortage of supplies caused by heavy worldwide demands as well as possible vaccine failures which could prompt countries to switch brands.

India, besieged by COVID-19 in recent weeks, has announced that it would no longer be exporting AstraZeneca as it needs more for its own people.

In a bid to increase uptake in Grenada, members of the Cabinet of Ministers are now going into their Constituencies to try and use their influence to get people to take the jab – the vaccination drive began on Tuesday with Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.

The Prime Minister said he was pleased that sixty people in his St George’s North West district showed up to be vaccinated during his vaccination drive.

Speaking with the Government Information Service (GIS), he was careful to explain that the drive is not political and urged opposition forces to also mobilise their constituents.

Last week, acting Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Shawn Charles said an effective anti-vaccine campaign and an “uprising against authority” are contributing to the low turnout at vaccination centres.

A significant percent of frontline healthcare workers are among the holdouts. Dr Charles called for “trust” in the science that says COVID19 vaccination is safe and protects people from hospitalisation and death.

Reluctance to take the jab is also linked to reports of blood clots being one of the deadly side effects of AstraZeneca.

There is also concern that AstraZeneca poses a greater risk to people 30 years and under. However, Grenada is not offering an alternative to the population.

One local doctor said the hesitancy on the part of nurses and doctors is because they are concerned about the possible side effects of AstraZeneca.

The medical expert pointed out that most of the nurses and doctors on the frontline are under forty years, putting them in the at-risk group for deadly side effects.

Speaking on the hesitancy among the wider population, it was suggested that the government took the wrong approach by going from the top down with the message of vaccination.

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