US Requires Bahamians to be Fully Vaccinated for Travel

Foreign travelers to the United States will be required to be fully vaccinated and tested for COVID-19 according to new rules established by the Biden administration.

The new system will be implemented in early November when Bahamians and other international travelers will only be allowed to fly to the US if they are fully vaccinated and able to show proof of vaccination before boarding a U.S bound flight.

White House Covid coordinator Jeffrey Zients said, “We will move to this much stricter global system, so we will have a consistent approach across all countries, it will require foreign nationals to be vaccinated, to prove they’re vaccinated, and then to go through the testing and contact tracing regiments.”

Foreign nationals will have to be tested three days before departure to the U.S. and show proof of a negative test.

The CDC will also require airlines to collect information for each U.S.-bound traveler, including their phone number and email address, to aid public health officials in contact tracing.

Why it matters

On the campaign trail, former Prime Minister Hubert Minnis announced that the USA would soon require only fully vaccinated travelers to enter its borders. He admonished Bahamians to get fully vaccinated to be able to travel to the US.

The Bahamas has already secured three vaccines: AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson.

State of play

The US has not yet stipulated what it constitutes as fully vaccinated and what vaccines will be qualified for entry.

The new policy applies only to air travel.

Indian-Made AstraZeneca May Not Be Accepted for EU Travel

Bahamians vaccinated with the Indian-made Covishield AstraZeneca vaccine could face challenges travelling to some European countries due to the EU making a distinction between brands of the controversial vaccine.

Though the Indian-made AstraZeneca was authorized in the EU, UK and the World Health Organization, the EU is making a distinction between the AstraZeneca vaccine made in India and the vaccine made in Europe.

It is worth noting that both the AstraZeneca versions are chemically the same but with new labeling and packaging.

Europe has since changed its European manufactured version of AstraZeneca to Vaxzevria, their brand name for the vaccine, and prefers this brand of the vaccine approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The problem

The Serum Institute that made the Indian version has not yet published the complete trial results. Each brand must supply its own efficacy data, and crucially, apply for its own authorization with the relevant authorities.

What You Should Know About Pfizer

Over 108,000 Bahamian citizens and residents have received one or two shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine to prevent contracting COVID19.

AstraZeneca was the first vaccine introduced to the Bahamas. Now, Bahamian citizens and residents have another option, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which will be distributed on Monday.

Get the vaccine and know the facts:

  • The Pfizer vaccine is reported to be 85% effective after the first dose, based on research by an Israeli study published in The Lancet medical journal. But, do not delay the second shot.

A study of more than 19,000 teens and adults across the United Kingdom shows that two shots are necessary for good protection against the Delta variant. Reports show that when patients are fully vaccinated, with two weeks to take effect, the Pfizer vaccine was about 88% effective against the Delta variant.

  • With Pfizer, you are likely to experience side effects, similar to AstraZeneca. The most common symptoms are fatigue, pain at the injection site, and headaches.

Unlike Astra Zeneca, the symptoms can show up at different times. With AstraZeneca, the symptoms happen after the first shot. However, with Pfizer, the symptoms tend to happen after the second jab.

  • Pfizer vaccines can present risks. Rare reports of heart inflammation called myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart membrane called pericarditis have been linked to the vaccine. Symptoms associated with this are mild but they include shortness of breath, chest pain, and palpitations.

The risk of developing myocarditis or pericarditis occurs within a week after receiving a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine and appears to resolve itself.

Minnis Joins Frontline and Rallies with Other Doctors to Vaccinate Populace

Prime Minister Hubert Minnis will join other healthcare workers in vaccinating the populace which he believes will help control the spread of COVID-19 and prevent further burden on health facilities in the country.

Minnis was speaking at a press conference at Jet Nassau on Tuesday after receiving 33,600 doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, which is the country’s third tranche of pre-paid vaccines through the COVAX Facility.

Minnis who has served more than 40 years as a medical doctor, will volunteer his services to help the country in its vaccination drive.

“I’ve had a discussion with my Cabinet and gotten agreement from Cabinet colleagues that as a medical doctor, I will volunteer my services with other medical colleagues to assist in the vaccination of the Bahamian populace throughout the country.”

The big story

The country has had a total of 15,046 cases of the virus since the pandemic began. Thirty-five new cases were reported on Monday and the death of a 36-year-old woman was reported by health officials.

Since the introduction of the vaccine, it has been met with hesitancy, and the issuance was limited to second doses only since supplies were low.

This new tranche means more residents and citizens, wanting to take the jab, can be inoculated as vaccination centers reopen.

State of play

While many argue that vaccinated people can contract the virus too, Minnis said, the unvaccinated face more dire consequences.

“It is the unvaccinated who are dying. It is the unvaccinated who are becoming sick. It is the unvaccinated who are hospitalized. It is the unvaccinated who are utilizing the intensive care unit.”

Dr. Nikkiah Forbes, Director of the Infectious Disease Programme at the Ministry of Health stated last week that more than 98% of hospitalizations and deaths at the Princess Margaret Hospital are unvaccinated people.

Unvaccinated Overwhelm PMH

Dr. Nikkiah Forbes, Director of the Infectious Disease Programme at the Ministry of Health said more than 98% of hospitalizations and deaths at the Princess Margaret Hospital are among unvaccinated people.

Speaking at the latest Ministry of Health’s press conference on Friday, Forbes said the infectious disease is attacking individuals not fully vaccinated from the virus.

“98.3% of the infected have had no vaccination. A smaller percentage had one shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” she said.

Forbes added that individuals with just one jab of the vaccine contracted the virus less than 14 days after inoculation.

“Getting vaccinated will protect against hospitalization and death,” she said.

These comments came after Prime Minister Hubert Minnis received criticism from some fractions of society when he suggested that the virus was over for the vaccinated.

Last week, Minnis stated that the vaccinated individuals are now out of the pandemic while the non-vaccinated people are still in the pandemic.

When asked to respond to this claim made by Minnis, Pearl McMillan, Chief Medical Officer at the Ministry of Health said, “He is partly right. More and more studies are coming through to show that those persons who have been vaccinated are less likely to have severe illness, hospitalization and death.”

State of play

Health officials said hospitalizations in this third wave have been much higher than in the second wave.

Officials said the country’s medical institutions experienced a peak in hospitalizations on July 20, which show a record of 92 cases.

Health Minister Renward Wells said, “These excessive numbers have placed our public health system to the test.”

The big picture

One hundred and ten new cases were confirmed on Thursday. This brings the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 13,957, with 1351 active cases.

A 50-year-old woman from New Providence died yesterday, due to the virus. This brings the total number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths to 280 people. Twenty-three deaths remain under investigation.


Over 3000 Doses of AstraZeneca Arrive to Combat Virus Swell

The Bahamas was supplemented with 3,496 doses of the COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine which arrived on Wednesday evening.

This comes as only a limited supply was available for individuals receiving the second dose of the jab.

The doses were a donation from the British Overseas Territories of Montserrat and Anguilla, with the assistance of United Kingdom High Commissioner Sarah Dickson.

Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis, chair of the National COVID-19 Vaccine Consultative Committee and special health adviser to the Prime Minister was on hand to receive the donation at Jet Nassau FBO at the Lynden Pindling International Airport.

“The vaccines are a welcome addition to our current vaccine supplies and will be used to continue the administration of second doses.

“We express our deep appreciation to the governments and people of Montserrat and Anguilla and the United Kingdom for this much-needed support.”

Dr. Dahl-Regis also thanked the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) for helping to coordinate the effort.

The big picture

The country is experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 cases as vaccine supplies remain limited.

Ninety-five new cases were recorded on Tuesday, increasing the total number of cases in the country to 13,781, with 1264 active cases.

The upsurge in cases has placed a strain on the Princess Margaret Hospital as the country’s premier medical institution said it was implementing new measures “to manage the institution’s already strained services as a result of a surge in COVID-19 cases presenting at the Emergency Department.”

In a press statement, the hospital said, “The new measures are designed to reduce the spread of the virus among patients and staff and to account for an increase in the number of persons having to be admitted.”

Hospital officials said the overwhelming majority of individuals stricken with the virus are unvaccinated individuals.


Health Officials Warn of Coronavirus Misinformation Circulating Social Media

Health officials are warning the public of a fake COVID-19 message circulating social media, purporting to be a request from the Ministry of Health.

The social media message is targeting people who were inoculated with Astra Zeneca, requesting that they share their personal information if they experienced COVID-like symptoms after taking the Astra-Zeneca vaccine in the Bahamas.

In a press statement released on Thursday, the Ministry of Health said it was made “aware of a message circulating on social media purporting to be an urgent and very important request for persons vaccinated with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in the Bahamas. The message appealed to persons experiencing COVID-like symptoms for more than three days to share personal details and information about the vaccine administered.

“The general public is advised that this message did not originate with the Surveillance Unit of the Ministry of Health, and hence, is not an approved communication.”

Health officials advised the public to seek accurate information only from the Ministry of Health, the Office of the Prime Minister, the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization, and to guard against receiving and sharing misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccine.

Limited Availability of COVID-19 Vaccines

The limited supply of vaccines in the country has forced health officials to narrow down inoculation to Bahamian citizens and permanent residents 18 years of age and over, and residents in the previously stated priority groups only.

The Prime Minister’s Office released a statement on Monday evening saying that health officials are awaiting the arrival of more vaccines in the country before the end of May so that all residents will be eligible to receive the jab.

The previously stated priority groups are:

  • Healthcare workers
  • Persons 50 years of age and older
  • Persons with disabilities
  • Uniformed branches (RBDF, RBPF, COVID Ambassadors, BDOCS, Customs and Immigration)
  • Teachers and staff of schools
  • Hospitality workers (hotel and resort employees, public transportation workers, Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA), Nassau Airport Development (NAD)Co., Nassau Cruise Port (NCP), straw market, port, and beach vendors, and tour operators
  • Restaurant and retail workers
  • Students and athletes studying or competing abroad, coaches, and other support
  • Home-bound physically disabled residents
  • Members of the clergy; and
  • Accredited media (editors, reporters/anchors, photographers, and videographers).

Proof of citizenship, permanent residency status or a work ID will be required at the vaccination site. Failure to present the requested ID will result in appointment cancellation..

Persons who have already received a first dose of the vaccine will be eligible to receive the second dose which is scheduled to begin on May 10.


Only Fully Vaccinated People Can Go Back to Normal

Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said once people are fully vaccinated they can commence a form of normal life.

In an address in the House of Assembly on Wednesday, Minnis pushed for people to get the vaccine, emphasizing that complete vaccination is necessary if the economy and health of the country is to return to normalcy.

Why it matters

The government is seeking to expand the COVID-19 vaccine access, as the country sees an increase in COVID-19 cases with the identification of new strains.

21,907 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered to Bahamians since the beginning of inoculation on March 4.

16,934 doses have been administered on New Providence; 3,512 doses on Grand Bahama; 832 on Abaco and 638 on Eleuthera.

The big picture

So far, the Bahamas has received a total of 53,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

20,000 doses were donated by the Government of India.

33,600 doses were received through the COVAX Facility with the assistance of the Pan American Health Organization.

The Bahamas is scheduled to receive an additional 67,200 vaccines through the COVAX Facility.

The country will receive the second tranche of AstraZeneca vaccines through the COVAX Facility before the end of May.

What Minnis said

Dr. Minnis said once people are fully vaccinated, they can participate in a closed environment, “once all are fully vaccinated.”

Minnis said indoor dining and work in the Junkanoo shacks can resume for those who are fully vaccinated.

Minnis added that travelers within the Bahamas who have been fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus will be exempted from COVID-19 test requirements that are currently in place when traveling from New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco, Exuma and Eleuthera.

These travelers will be exempted immediately after full vaccination. Proof of full vaccination will be required.

Effective 1st May, those traveling to the Bahamas from outside of the country, will be exempted from a COVID-19 test if they are fully vaccinated and have passed the two-week immunity period.

Proof of full vaccination will be required.

To be clear if an individual is not fully vaccinated that individual will still be required to provide a negative COVID-19 test where testing requirements are in place, Minnis said.

Govt’ to Secure More Vaccines in the Fight Against COVID-19

Minister of Health Renward Wells assured that the government is working to secure additional vaccines from approved providers, in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

He made the statement on Wednesday, during the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Update Press Conference.

Wells noted that through PAHO, the Bahamas scheduled to receive an additional 67,200 vaccines through the COVAX Facility.

Why it matters

The Bahamas has received a total of 53,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Out of that, 20,000 doses were received as a gift from the Government of India and 33,600 doses were received through the COVAX Facility with the assistance of the PAHO.

“The government continues to work on all fronts to secure additional vaccines from approved providers,” Minister Wells said.

Driving the news

To date, more than 10,000 first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to Bahamians and residents. Over 1,000 individuals are being vaccinated per day and health care workers are actively working to increase this number, he added.

Vaccines have been administered at centres in New Providence, Grand Bahama and Eleuthera. Additional centres have opened to include a wider range of individuals namely teachers and staff of schools, the physically disabled, those in the hospitality industry and students and athletes studying abroad.

As of Tuesday, there were 26 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19. This brings the total number of confirmed cases in the Bahamas to 9,296. The total number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths now stands at 189.

(BIS Photo/Patrick Hanna)