Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves will decide by today whether he will take the Russia-developed Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, 20 doses of which have been given to St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
Gonsalves, 76, told Parliament during the budget debate on Thursday that he had been giving the matter “prayerful consideration”, but did not want to appear to have jumped the queue.
Among the persons who are said to have taken the jab are Medical Officer of Health Dr Roger Duncan and fellow physician and infectious disease specialist, Dr Jerrol Thompson, who served as Science and Technology Minister for two terms under Gonsalves’ administration.
Acknowledging that “people may wonder how can anybody in St Vincent take that vaccine”, Gonsalves noted that a public health emergency has been declared in SVG and under the Public Health Act, the chief medical officer can authorise the use of a vaccine “on a voluntary basis”.
“She has sent the letter to the minister and I think the minister has already done the approval,” he said.
“I am pondering, myself, to take it. I will tell you the two sides of the question I am wondering. My first instinct was not to take it because I don’t want it to be said that ‘20 vaccines come from Sputnik [and] Ralph gone and put himself in the queue’, even though, given my age, I would be one who would be among persons may be considered should take.”
The Prime Minister said the feedback he had received from journalists with whom he had discussed the matter was that people would only take a vaccine, either Sputnik or any other, if they saw him taking it.
“This morning, I have been giving it prayerful consideration and I will sleep on it tonight again, and if tomorrow morning it comes to me that I should take it, in a positive sign, I will take it, because I understand that persons want to see the prime minister take the vaccine,” he told Parliament.
The BBC has reported that late-stage trial results published in The Lancet, a reputed medical journal in the UK, reveal that Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine gives around 92 per cent protection against COVID-19.
It has also been deemed to be safe and offer complete protection against hospitalisation and death. Although it was initially met with some controversy after being rolled out before the final trial data had been released, scientists have said its benefit has now been demonstrated and Sputnik V now joins the ranks of proven vaccines alongside Pfizer, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Moderna and Janssen, BBC said.
The BBC said that in a comment published alongside the Lancet paper, Professors Ian Jones and Polly Roy said: “The development of the Sputnik V vaccine has been criticised for unseemly haste, corner-cutting, and an absence of transparency. But the outcome reported here is clear and the scientific principle of vaccination is demonstrated, which means another vaccine can now join the fight to reduce the incidence of COVID-19”.
Meanwhile, Gonsalves said that SVG is getting 45,600 vaccines for 20 per cent of the population from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility.
The first tranche will be a quarter of the total amount and should arrive by the end of this month.
“…And I feel that this 45,600 we may get in dribs and drabs over the years, so we have to look elsewhere,” Gonsalves said.
Against that background, the Prime Minister has authorised the chairperson of the Mustique Charitable Trust (MTC), Dora Lowenstein, who has been in close contact with the persons at AstraZeneca at Oxford University, to purchase vaccines for SVG.
“And I’ve requested that she, on our behalf, place the order for 100,000 vaccines of AstraZeneca. That’s for 50,000 persons – the initial vaccine and the booster,” he said.
Gonsalves said that SVG would also receive from someone, whom he did not identify, 6,000 Sputnik vaccines, which would be for 3,000 persons.
“But we are also making arrangements to put in an order for the Russian vaccine for 70,000 persons,” he said. “The WHO is in pre-authorisation discussion with the epidemiological institute in Moscow on this vaccine.”
“Now, you can’t wait until the approvals come, either through WHO or through the national regulatory authority in Britain, USA, Canada, Switzerland, or the European Union…because if you do that, you may find yourself in the queue so far back.
“And there is also the African medical supplies platform, in which we are on,” Gonsalves added.
“They are ordering in bulk and the Caribbean region is the sixth region of Africa … and they are putting aside 1.5 million vaccines for CARICOM, of which we will get 21,888 and we have to prepare for those when they are ready.”
The Vincentian leader added that the country is getting a US$200,000 grant from the ALBA Bank, which is setting up a rolling vaccine bank of US$1 million.
“Cuba and Venezuela are very strong in that and I am hoping to see that the Cuba vaccine will go through their third stage of clinical trials to get there,’ he said.
Additionally, Gonsalves said he has written to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding getting assistance in procuring AstraZeneca vaccines for up to 20,000 people.
“So, you notice we are going through COVAX and the Advance Market Commitment portion, but we are making arrangements elsewhere,” he said.