Saint Lucia, like the rest of the world, is working diligently to access the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. On July 10th , Saint Lucia signed onto the COVAX Facility, which is a global mechanism to source COVID-19 vaccines. This COVAX Facility ensures fair and equitable access to the vaccine by all the participating countries. The Facility is making investments across a number of selected promising vaccine options.
This will give access to doses of safe and effective vaccines when they receive regulatory approval and this access will be done by pooling the purchasing power from all participating countries. The COVAX Facility is guided by the World Health Organization’s framework that allows for distributing the vaccine equitably to each country in an effort to help protect the most at-risk groups in the Facility’s participating countries.
On June 4, 2020 the Global Vaccine Summit, GAVI launched the COVID-19 Vaccines Advance Market Commitment (COVAX AMC) with the goal to ensure rapid but nonetheless equitable access to safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines to all countries, regardless of income level, developmental status, or population size. In July 2020, the GAVI COVAX AMC was approved as a financing mechanism to accelerate and reserve the COVID-19 vaccine. Saint Lucia, along with Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Guyana are part of the 6 AMC CARICOM countries within our region which will receive a reduction in vaccine costs.
It is estimated that the first vaccine supply should be available by March 2021. To fulfill the commitment to fair and equitable access, GAVI is presently fundraising to finance the costs of at least 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses, which are fully subsidized donor-funded doses to ensure lower-income countries are not left behind. They seek to cover about 20% of the population of these six countries to make a real impact on reducing the spread of the pandemic.
The Ministry of Health and Wellness has organized a COVID-19 Immunization Committee which is planning the roll-out of the vaccine in country and this is being done with the support of the Pan-American Health Organization. This plan entails a health education and communication module scheduled to commence in January 2021 ahead of the introduction of the vaccine. This aspect is important to ensure our population has access to accurate, scientific information on the new vaccine to facilitate informed decisions in relation to its use for them and their family.
Initial information suggests that at least 65-70% of the population would need to be vaccinated to achieve what is termed herd immunity, which is the level of resistance that is required across our population. We intend to monitor closely the use of the vaccine in the developed countries commencing this month to gain some insight of factors which supported its roll-out, barriers and any key lessons learnt which can be applied to our country.
The national COVID-19 vaccine plan will also indicate the priority target groups to be focused on when the vaccine is introduced as well as the country policy on the dissemination of the vaccine into the wider community, the policy on availability, cost and conditions for uptake.
The Ministry of Health will ensure full stakeholder participation as we anticipate a broad level of healthy discussion and contributions for achieving the effective introduction of this new vaccine into the country.
The Ministry of Health and Wellness will continue providing updates on the COVID-19 vaccines as information becomes available.