Minister Wilson On Covid-19 Vaccine Progress

March 5, 2021 | 2 Comments

“If you take into account just the percentage of the population which is eligible for the vaccine, i.e. persons more than 16yrs old, we have vaccinated 27% of the eligible population and immunised 16% of that population,” Minister of Health Kim Wilson said in the House of Assembly today [March 5].

The Minister said, “Currently, Bermuda is executing its vaccine programme using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, one that is probably at the forefront in terms of being authorised for use in the greatest number of countries.

“In terms of progress to date, we administered 20,705 vaccinations between January 11, when we started, and February 27, the most recent reporting period. This number increases to 23,939 if you include the first three days of the current reporting period, March 1 – 3.

“Bermuda’s goal of ‘herd immunity’ will be achieved when 70% of the population [64,054] has been immunized. Up to and including March 3, 23% of the population has been vaccinated [with 1 dose] and 13% of the population has been immunized [with 2 doses].

“If you take into account just the percentage of the population which is eligible for the vaccine, i.e. persons more than 16yrs old, we have vaccinated 27% of the eligible population and immunised 16% of that population. This is very good news.

“Bermuda has two sources for procuring vaccines against COVID-19. The primary source at the moment is through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office which is being facilitated by Government House and by direct talks between the Chief Medical Officer and Public Health England.

“So far, Bermuda has received 28,750 doses of the Pfizer vaccine from the UK, with a third shipment of 10,500 arriving this week on the BA flight, for a total of 39,250.

“The second vaccine source is through Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance Geneva, which is administering the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility [the 'COVAX Facility']. Bermuda has joined the COVAX Facility, and has purchased approximately 26,400 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“Unfortunately, the timeframe for receipt of these vaccines through the COVAX Facility is not yet settled. We expect to receive 25% of the doses ‘in the first quarter’ of this year, with the remaining 75% not being received until later in the second quarter of the year.

“We base our projections for vaccine use on the confirmed and committed doses we have in hand or will receive. As such, we only count the 39,250 doses of the Pfizer vaccine when we state that Bermuda’s ‘last first dose’ date will be in mid-March based on current supplies.

“The COVID-19 vaccination is voluntary but it is already clear that the travel industry is aggressively assessing how immunity can provide it with new life. As I previously reported to this House, the International Air Transport Association is working on a ‘Travel Pass’ to enable the safe sharing of COVID-19 test results and vaccination certificates across borders. This is one of many app developers.”

The Minister’s full statement follows below:

Mr Speaker

I rise today to provide this Honourable House a progress report on the rollout of COVID-19 vaccination programme in Bermuda.

As we are all aware, COVID-19 continues as a public health emergency for Bermuda and the rest of the world. In response to this deadly pandemic, research and trials of new vaccines were accelerated through 2020, and continue at a fast pace into 2021.

Mr Speaker

Worldwide, as of March 4, there are 42 vaccines formally entered Phase 1 of development, where they are tested for safety and dosage, and to confirm they will stimulate the immune system. A total of 27 vaccines have expanded into Phase 2 safety trials, where the vaccine is tested on hundreds of people in varying groups to see if the vaccine acts differently in the differing groups. This phase further tests vaccine safety. Twenty-one vaccines are entered Phase 3 of development, which comprises the large-scale efficacy tests. In this phase many thousands of people are vaccinated to determine if the vaccine protects against the coronavirus. These trials are large enough to reveal even relatively rare side-effects as well. After going through all three phases, vaccine makers can apply for authorisation for use. To date, six vaccines have been authorised for early or limited use [this is what we refer to as ‘emergency use’], and six have been approved for full use by different authorities around the world.

The Office of the Chief Medical Officer, in conjunction with the Bermuda Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, provides guidance on the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccine in Bermuda. Bermuda’s vaccine programme is aligned with the advice, authorisations and approvals issued by the Food and Drug Administration, Canada Health, the European Medicines Agency, Public Health England and the World Health Organisation. Currently, Bermuda is executing its vaccine programme using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, one that is probably at the forefront in terms of being authorised for use in the greatest number of countries.

Mr Speaker,

As initially reported to this House in December last year, Bermuda has a disproportionate number of elderly and vulnerable residents due to chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes. We do not have a young population, so the need for the vaccine here is even greater than in some other countries.

Using census data, the Ministry produced an allocation plan to assure that the most vulnerable receive the vaccine first, along with the health care professionals who are on the front lines and who care for these vulnerable persons. So, Phase 1A targeted people who are 80yrs or more in age, rest home and long-term care facility residents, health care workers and workers providing essential services such as border control, police, firemen and those in the Corrections service.

Phase 1B targeted people who are 65yrs or more in age, as well as persons who are extremely vulnerable, such as those undergoing chemotherapy and those with lupus, severe asthma and severe COPD.

Currently, Mr Speaker, we are targeting the population group in Phase 2, which is people who are more than 50yrs old and medically vulnerable people with conditions such as heart disease, chronic kidney or liver disease and diabetes. We are also developing solutions to reach certain identified groups, for example, people who are less mobile, residents living with disabilities and unsheltered persons.

The final phase, Mr Speaker, will be everyone, which is Phase 3.

It is critical that as many people as possible get vaccinated. Some believe that actually getting COVID-19 will provide a ‘natural immunity’ and will consider this sufficient. It is not. Experts do not know how long this natural immunity lasts, and the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 far outweighs any benefits of natural immunity. The COVID-19 vaccination will help protect you by creating an antibody response without having to experience more than mild side-effects such as a headache. It will also help you to protect the loved ones around you, and the community generally, by creating a ‘dead end’ for virus transmission. Furthermore, immunity as a result of vaccination has been shown to be superior to immunity from natural infection as it is stronger.

Mr Speaker

In terms of progress to date, we administered 20,705 vaccinations between January 11, when we started, and February 27, the most recent reporting period. This number increases to 23,939 if you include the first three days of the current reporting period, March 1 – 3.

Bermuda’s goal of “herd immunity” will be achieved when 70% of the population [64,054] has been immunized. Up to and including March 3, 23% of the population has been vaccinated [with 1 dose] and 13% of the population has been immunized [with 2 doses].

If you take into account just the percentage of the population which is eligible for the vaccine, i.e. persons more than 16yrs old, we have vaccinated 27% of the eligible population and immunised 16% of that population. This is very good news.

Mr Speaker

While the vaccine rollout has not been without its challenges, I am very pleased to report that the Ministry’s vaccine allocation strategy was the correct plan of action. Vaccinations by age group shows that the targeted approach has been successful, with seniors – all those aged 65 or more – vaccinated at almost 50%.

Specifically, of those aged 80yrs or more, our most vulnerable population group, 55% have had the vaccine administered: 41% have had one shot and 14% are fully immunised having had two shots. Similarly, in the 65 – 79 age group, 31% have been vaccinated and 17% are fully immunised.

The Ministry’s community outreach team will be working to reach those seniors with barriers, and the Ministry’s partnership with Age Concern is a great first step. We recognise many in this age group of 65+ do not have access to the technology and/or the computer literacy needed to complete the registration form, and we are working to overcome this barrier and get more of our most vulnerable vaccinated.

Mr Speaker

Bermuda’s ability to achieve herd immunity depends on two factors: a community willingness to be vaccinated and a steady supply of COVID-19 vaccines.

Mr Speaker

Vaccines are effective; they work. Data being reported from around the world shows that countries, like Bermuda, that have implemented aggressive vaccination programmes are now seeing decreases, and in some countries, dramatic decreases, in the numbers of persons infected with the coronavirus and the numbers hospitalised.

Mr Speaker

Bermuda has two sources for procuring vaccines against COVID-19. The primary source at the moment is through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office which is being facilitated by Government House and by direct talks between the Chief Medical Officer and Public Health England.

So far, Bermuda has received 28,750 doses of the Pfizer vaccine from the UK, with a third shipment of 10,500 arriving this week on the BA flight, for a total of 39,250.

Mr Speaker

The second vaccine source is through Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance Geneva, which is administering the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility [the “COVAX Facility”]. Bermuda has joined the COVAX Facility, and has purchased approximately 26,400 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Unfortunately, the timeframe for receipt of these vaccines through the COVAX Facility is not yet settled. We expect to receive 25% of the doses “in the first quarter” of this year, with the remaining 75% not being received until later in the second quarter of the year.

Mr Speaker

We base our projections for vaccine use on the confirmed and committed doses we have in hand or will receive. As such, we only count the 39,250 doses of the Pfizer vaccine when we state that Bermuda’s ‘last first dose’ date will be in mid-March based on current supplies.

Mr Speaker

The COVID-19 vaccination is voluntary but it is already clear that the travel industry is aggressively assessing how immunity can provide it with new life. As I previously reported to this House, the International Air Transport Association is working on a ‘Travel Pass’ to enable the safe sharing of COVID-19 test results and vaccination certificates across borders. This is one of many app developers.

To manage expectations here in Bermuda it needs to be clearly reiterated that the desired result of these first phases of vaccination is not to end the pandemic but to protect our health care workers, the most vulnerable in our community, the elderly, and to prevent our healthcare system from being overwhelmed.

We acknowledge and agree this pandemic can only end when all people in all countries of the world are vaccinated. That is our reality.

Mr Speaker

This important vaccination rollout work is not being done by the Ministry alone. In addition to the Ministry of Health’s staff, who work between testing and contact tracing and case management, often in addition to their ‘day job’ of community nurse, we have welcomed the necessary assistance of the Bermuda Hospitals Board and its staff, general practitioners, Advanced EMTs, dentists, vets and retired nurses.

As Minister, and on behalf of the Ministry, I cannot thank these professionals enough. Their dedication to the island’s wellbeing is truly stellar.

Nowhere was this more evident than this past Wednesday, when an excess of vaccine doses needed to be used immediately. In response to our call to avoid wastage, hundreds of residents responded by waiting patiently in the rain for their first dose, and the health professionals and administrative staff worked 12 – 14 hours that day to get the job done. I applaud and thank them for their incredible hard work.

Mr Speaker

In closing, wearing masks, physical distancing, good hand hygiene and downloading the WeHealth app are all important in our fight against the coronavirus but these measures are not enough. Vaccines will work with your immune system so it will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed. We urge everyone to get vaccinated when it is your turn.

The combination of getting vaccinated and following the Ministry of Health’s guidelines on how best to protect yourself and others will offer the best protection from COVID-19.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Red Pill says:

    What a load of rubbish.

  2. Question says:

    600 doses nearly wasted. Pure incompetence.

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