‘DON’T BE AFRAID’: PM urges public to accept vaccination as first rollout nears

By KHRISNA RUSSELL

Tribune Chief Reporter

krussell@tribunemedia.net

PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis made a strong appeal for all citizens to take the COVID-19 vaccine yesterday, insisting the country’s economic rebound hinged on widespread administration of the jab.

In a nationally televised address, Dr Minnis said when a large percentage of Bahamians are vaccinated, more of the country will be able to open up, adding this would spark more jobs among other economic positives.

He said vaccinations will likely be a requirement by other countries to travel overseas and that cruise lines may also have the same stipulation.

While his address did not reveal specifically when the first vaccinations of 100,000 doses will arrive here, the Prime Minister said the government was expected to receive more details on the shipment today.

Dr Minnis said: “Vaccines are critical to ending the pandemic. In The Bahamas, there will not be a government mandate requiring you to take a vaccine.”

“However, we strongly urge all who are eligible to get vaccinated.

“I will take the vaccine. I will urge family and friends to take the vaccine. By getting vaccinated you will help the country to return to a greater level of normalcy.

“By getting vaccinated you will also help our economy to recover faster. When a large percentage of Bahamians are vaccinated, we will be able to responsibly open up even more.

“More economic activity will be possible, leading to more jobs, more working hours, more family income, more small business activity and a return of more tourists in the months ahead.

“It is also quite possible that being vaccinated will be a requirement by other countries for you to travel overseas. Other countries may not allow you to enter their borders unless you have proof of vaccination.

“We are hearing that cruise lines may require their passengers to show that they have been vaccinated. Proof of vaccination may be one of the critical measures in helping the tourism industry to bounce back around the world.

“As a leading tourism destination, we must play our part and set an example for the world.”

He reiterated that vaccine administration in The Bahamas will be a huge operational and logistical challenge, but a plan to this effect is nearing completion.

“The National COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan is in the final stages of completion in preparation for the arrival of the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines. The AstraZeneca vaccine will be administered in two doses.

“These COVID-19 vaccines will be available free of charge. Between eight and 10 approved vaccination sites have been identified on New Providence. This includes drive-thru sites.

“Vaccination sites have also been identified on Grand Bahama and the Family Islands.

“Health officials and the National COVID-19 Vaccine Consultative Committee are looking at additional platforms to distribute the vaccine in order to increase access to and ensure equity of distribution to all communities.

“There will be a focus on high-risk populations where COVID-19 has occurred. Mobile units will be used to safely distribute vaccines to vulnerable populations in their communities. Vaccine appointment software is very near completion and is expected to be rolled out in advance of distribution.

“This will allow those who choose to take the vaccine to schedule their appointments digitally on their smartphone, tablet or computer. For those without access to the internet or a device, appointment centers will be set up to provide assistance with making appointments to receive the vaccine.”

Among the first priority groups eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on New Providence and Grand Bahama are healthcare workers; people over the age of 65; uniformed branch members; frontline workers; critical workers in high-risk settings and other essential service workers.

On the Family Islands, local medical teams will be assisted by mobile teams from New Providence where health teams will vaccinate all eligible residents who choose to take the vaccine at the same time. Dr Minnis said this means that everyone on the Family Islands will be vaccinated at the same time and the schedule will not follow the prioritised group rollout.

Regarding economic activity, Dr Minnis addressed what he called “reckless chatter” by some.

“Never in our recent history have we had to deal with disruptions of this scale. Thousands of people remain out of work. Hundreds of businesses are struggling to keep their doors open.

“Recently, there has been reckless chatter by some, suggesting that the country was on an economic precipice and that the country’s finances were in a depleted and chaotic state.

“At the same time, we are providing millions of dollars every month to support the special unemployment assistance programmes, the food programme, and business loans and grants, to Bahamian small businesses on a scale never before seen in The Bahamas.

“My government developed and announced its ‘Resilient Bahamas’ plan during the most recent budget exercise. We have been faithfully executing this plan.

“And, we have provided even additional funding to extend the food programme and the unemployment programmes which continue to benefit tens of thousands of Bahamian families.”

Dr Minnis said he will be presenting the mid-year budget in Parliament on Wednesday.