An estimated 20 per cent of the Barbados population is guaranteed to receive vaccination against the dreaded COVID-19 virus once a vaccine becomes available.
And workers in the tourism industry, health workers, other frontline workers and people with underlying medical conditions are likely to be in the first batch.
The good news was shared by regional health officials on Friday. They say they were still not sure when a vaccine was likely to become available, but they were hoping it could be during the first quarter of next year.
Speaking during an online media briefing, Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) Dr Joy St John announced that several member states have been able to receive assistance from a new fund, with the down payment to the COVAX facility to allow them access to COVID-19 vaccine.
The COVAX Facility is a global initiative consisting of governments, scientists, manufacturers, and other stakeholders, collaborating to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines.
In addition to Barbados, CARPHA has provided 100 per cent down payment support for Antigua and Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.
“We have been able to support Suriname with 18 per cent of the down payment required for the COVAX Facility,” added St John.
She said those payments will cover about 20 per cent of the population in total.
Dr St John explained that it was after much discussion, consideration and agreements by member states, that CARPHA was able to transfer some US$2.28 million (about €$1.8 million) from the newly-established US$3 million grant from the European Union (EU).
“CARPHA has been able to do this through the kind cooperation of two of our very best partners, the Pan-American Health Organisation and the European Union. CARPHA has an agreement with the European Union, which allows for a pot of money to be given for use of purchase of vaccines and treatments,” she explained.
It is estimated that an approved vaccine could cost as little as US$2.50 or as much as US$35 per dose, and that at least two doses could be required per person.
The payment made by CARPHA for the identified countries, translate to about one million doses of a successful vaccine.
However, regional health officials are estimating the cost to be around US$11 per dose, and it was on that premise that they have estimated that 20 per cent of the population in the assisted countries would receive the vaccine.
Dr St John explained that CARPHA had done its calculation for the sum of money provided based on what the vaccine was likely to cost, the understanding of the chronic non-communicable diseases in each country, burden of risk factors such as smoking and obesity, the ability of countries to detect or monitor diseases and the proportion of the population by age group.
“So each country had its own calculation. This has been a very precise process . . . After discussions with PAHO we were advised on the amount of money we needed to put forward,” she said.
While close to 200 vaccines are said to be in development around the world as of October 16, the regional health officials and their partners are especially eyeing some ten vaccines that were said to be at phase three of development – two phases before approval.
Officials said Friday, that they expected vulnerable groups including those with pre-existing health conditions, health workers, tourism industry workers and other frontline employees to be first to get the vaccine.
In addition to the down payments, countries will need to guarantee full payments, which could lead some to acquire loans.
Dr Jarbas Barbosa da Silva, Assistant Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), stressed that the 20 per cent coverage of population was merely an estimation at this stage since the cost of the vaccine, production capacity and number of doses were things still to be confirmed.
“Probably we can move it from 20 to 50 per cent, but now we are being realistic that if you [aim] to achieve two billion doses in 2021, we are talking about a huge production capacity, and we would be able to order for 20 per cent,” he said, adding that they were also taking into consideration those who would have mild or moderate cases of the COVID-19 virus.
Dr Jarbas said countries along with a technical advisory group in the region have already started discussions on the strategies for vaccination, adding that it would depend on the availability of vaccine and characteristics. For example, a consideration could be if the drug can only be given to the elderly or the number of doses required.
“Why 20 per cent? Because probably the 20 per cent will have all the health care workers and all the frontline workers, which account for about three per cent of the population and the other 17 per cent are people who are 60 years or more, others with underlying conditions . . . that have a higher risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19. So the main objective is that every country will receive the vaccines for this first 20 per cent of the population,” he said.
“Of course, each country will have some flexibility and they will adopt their own national strategy. For example, countries in the Caribbean will also protect the tourism sector workers, being a priority in order to protect the economies,” he said.
Luis Maia, Head of Cooperation at the EU, said that region would be doing what it could to ensure that everyone who needs the vaccine will get it, “anywhere in the world”.
Pledging continued help for the Caribbean, Maia said in addition to funds for personal protective gear, isolation and quarantine procedures and surveillance strengthening, the EU did set aside “significant funds” to help finance treatment and vaccines when they become available, hence the creation of the US$3 million revolving fund.
Over 180 countries are involved in the COVAX Facility, which was launched in June this year. Some 92 countries considered low-income or middle-income are eligible to access COVID-19 vaccine through the COVAX Advanced Market Commitment, a special arm of the COVAX Facility.
Countries to receive the vaccine free of charge once a donation is made to COVAX include Bolivia, Dominica, El Salvador, Grenada, Haiti, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The countries that are considered “self-financing” countries will pay their way.
(marlon [email protected])