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Public discourse expected on COVID-19 vaccine

Extensive public discussions will be held before Grenada’s COVID-19 vaccination programme is implemented, according to Minister of Health Nicholas Steele; when that happens he will be with front line workers to be vaccinated.

“I will publicly say that once the WHO has approved a vaccine, I would take that vaccine,” he declared.

There is still a significant amount of “public discourse” to be had about vaccinations, Minister Steele told reporters on Tuesday during the weekly press briefing.

“I know there are many people with a certain level of anxiety with respect to this particular vaccine,” he said, unlike other vaccines for polio, measles and other contagious disease. Information about COVID-19 vaccines is lacking, according to Steele, and the Ministry intends to distribute more information to combat the negative misinformation circulating on social media as it prepares for public consultations on Grenada’s COVID-19 vaccination plans.

Grenada now has the capacity to store the World Health Organisation (WHO) approved Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which must be kept at minus 80 degrees Celsius and requires two doses 21 days apart.

The Minister said there is no vaccine “on the way” to any Caribbean Community (CARICOM) members, and he and fellow CARICOM health ministers discussed the matter on Tuesday. The only WHO vaccine to be approved is the Pfizer and BioNTech.

“We have confirmed our ability to store the said vaccine here in Grenada, as opposed to last week. We are able to store that vaccine should that vaccine be the one that we as a CARICOM, as OECS, as an individual country decide that is the one to go with.”

Grenada is also in communication with manufacturers of other vaccines, including Moderna, which has received approval in the US and Canada; and AstraZeneca, which has been approved in the UK. Noting that Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca are the only three vaccines approved by WHO or on the way to being approved by WHO, he said it is “safe and prudent” for Grenada to have discussions with the manufacturers “so if and when there is that WHO/PAHO approval we are already there to pull that order out and have it shipped once it is approved.”

Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Shawn Charles said last week that front line workers, particularly health care providers, will be the “priority group” to receive the vaccination, as well as persons at risk with underlying conditions.

As of Tuesday, Grenada had 12 actives cases, of which 10 are travel related and two are connected to the December cluster at Sandals. This brought the total number of positive cases recorded to 139, the most recent being a traveller from the US with mild symptoms.

The Emergency Powers (COVID-19) SRO 3 Regulations Order No 3 of 2021, which went into effect on Monday (Jan 11), permits gatherings of 20 persons and extends the curfew from 10 pm to 5 am.

“This week, based on Grenada’s epidemiology situation, the best balance we can find is to move that curfew to 10 pm,” Minister Steele said, adding that the local epidemiology situation has improved with respect to the December cluster. However, he noted the threat increases with new strains of the virus that are proving to be highly more contagious.  Grenada does not have the capacity to test for the new strains and must call upon the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), which is leading the CARICOM response to the pandemic.

“CARPHA has informed us that should any of us have the desire, need or concern to find out if any of our positive cases are any of those strains… to send samples to them,” and requested that they do not get inundated as testing for the new strains is a much more lengthy process.

CARICOM member states are asked to send samples only if the positive case has a travel history or has come directly from the UK, as 70 to 80% of the cases in the UK are from the new strain, he added.

Prime Minister Mitchell earlier said that while he will not make it mandatory for people to take the vaccine when one becomes available, he will be first in line and has already spoken to his Ministers to do likewise.


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