The Cayman Islands government has opted to forego its first tranche of COVAX vaccines allowing thousands of doses to be released to other countries in desperate need of supplies, Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee has confirmed.
Lee explained that Cayman’s decision to release the vaccines allows them to be “distributed amongst other countries and we know they are in really short supply.”
This week, COVAX, a coalition led by the World Health Organization and Gavi, the Vaccine Allowance, to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, notified 36 participating countries in the Americas of their estimated dose allocation for the first phase of vaccine delivery.
Cayman was not in that list. According to a Pan-American Health Organization statement, it is estimated that around 35.3 million doses will be arriving in the Americas in this first stage and distribution is expected to begin this month.
Lee, responding to questions from the Cayman Compass on the initiative at the COVID-19 press briefing on Thursday, said Cayman had also received a letter from COVAX “in which it noted that we have declined to take the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines”.
He explained the reason Cayman is not accepting that first offering is because the country is “getting a very good supply” of vaccines from the United Kingdom.
“We know that many countries around us have not had any access to vaccines whatsoever, so we are in a very unique and special position for which we are very grateful to the Foreign Commonwealth Development Office in the United Kingdom,” he said.
Governor Martyn Roper, also speaking at the briefing, announced that Cayman’s third consignment of vaccines is due to arrive on the 11 Feb. BA flight.
“This time we have been able to secure more doses than the first and second consignments. The next consignment will consist of around 15,000 doses. Each vial should have five doses but contains six or seven. Therefore, our first batch of 9,750 was actually closer to 11,500 doses,” he said.
The third consignment will take Cayman to a total of about 38,000 doses, which will vaccinate close to 20,000 people.
“This is a strong signal of support from the UK for Cayman and the Overseas Territories,” Roper added.
Lee, building on the governor’s announcement, pointed to those supplies and further deliveries as the impetus for the decision to forego the first COVAX tranche.
He added that Cayman, which paid to join COVAX, remains in the queue to get more vaccines.
“We knew we were going to have a good supply of either of those two vaccines [therefore] we opted at the time to not take those. That does not mean we are not in the scheme, we remain in the scheme,” he said.
Canada, which is set to receive 1.9 million vaccines from COVAX, has come under fire for accepting its allocation.
Federal opposition leaders, according to Canadian media reports, have called the decision to take the vaccines an embarrassment.
According to the PAHO statement, the Americas region will need to immunise approximately 500 million people to control the pandemic.
“The goal is to provide vaccines for at least 20% of the population in each country participating in COVAX to protect those most at risk for severe forms of COVID-19. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 37 countries will receive vaccines through COVAX. Of these, 27 will do so with their own financing and 10 will do so at no cost due to their economic condition or population size,” the statement added.
At present, Cayman is only receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, bur Roper said Cayman will be provided with AstraZeneca vaccines at some point, “depending on supplies”.
He added that, globally, vaccine supply still remains challenging.
“The politics around who has access to vaccines is also sensitive. So in Cayman we are doing very well given the continuing health crisis in UK and elsewhere, including other OTs, some of which have significant community transmission and deaths. We will continue to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for next two to three shipments,” Roper said.