Public health officials are warning Barbados and other Caribbean territories to beware of bogus vaccines in circulation that could adversely affect lives.
Executive Director of the Trinidad and Tobago-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) Dr Joy St John is advising authorities to pay strict attention to the regulatory aspects of the distribution of the bona fide vaccine to their populations.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Dr St John said while the sale of bogus vaccines may be lucrative for those selling them, it could have serious repercussions for patients.
Outlining her biggest concerns regarding the distribution of the vaccine, the senior public health executive identified the issue of regulation.
“The next thing is related to the regulatory perspective. I do not want bogus vaccines within the Caribbean. Already we know that there have been attempts to circulate bogus vaccines. So I do not want anyone getting their hands on something that purports to be [approved] that is not,” she declared.
“It is big money for who sold you, but it is an investment loss and lives affected… because they did not get to vet the vaccine. So I would not want that happening in the Caribbean,” the former Chief Medical Officer in Barbados added.
Dr St John, who once managed this country’s expanded immunization programme, also wants clarity from member-states on who they want to vaccinate, as there are not enough of the vaccines for everyone.
“And then I would want to see that countries have readied their systems…because you know that Caribbean countries have worldwide recognition for the quality of vaccines services and the leadership in eradication of vaccine preventable diseases. I would want to see these vaccine services re-engineered to take into account the type of vaccine,” she stated.
Dr St John went on to point out that there are vaccines which have to be stored at minus 75 degrees…
“That is not your home fridge. You need to have certain infrastructure in place to store. You need to have dry ice to take those kinds of vaccines around and maintain the cold chain and so on.
“And then there is the issue that it is going to be mainly adult immunization,” the top public health official told Barbados TODAY.
“So there needs to be the issue of the storage and maintaining the cold chain; getting to people who are not usually in a state of being a captive audience for mass vaccinations and of course, at the same time, maintaining the protocols so that there is no probable spread of COVID 19 during the vaccination,” said Dr St John.
She said she would like to see countries up to speed with this and have the resources, the hands to vaccinate and the syringes.
The CARPHA senior official also pointed to the skepticism by some surrounding the vaccination.
“I have been watching that growing skepticism. CARPHA is going to be doing a survey. We are going to have a meeting to ensure that the research protocol has passed the ethical approval…and then we will start administering to try to find out why people are skeptical,” she stated.
Dr St John told Barbados TODAY she would like to see some normalcy return to the health service. In fact, she is adamant that the mass vaccination on which the region is about to embark should not disrupt continued attention to the programme for non-communicable diseases.
“I do not want it to affect the usual immunization. I want the usual NCDs programme to be up and running because persons with NCDs and risk factors for NCDs…those persons are at risk of developing the more severe and critical forms of COVID and dying,” said Dr St John.
“So I would like those persons with NCDs to have their illnesses under control…that includes dieting and exercise. That is the type of normalcy I want to see as the new norm,” she emphasized.
While Barbados is one of the countries to benefit from assistance in acquiring the vaccine under the COVAX programme, Prime Minister Mia Mottley last night confirmed that she had written to the Indian government as part of a bilateral arrangement for additional vaccines that would cover more than the initial 20 per cent coming from COVAX.
COVAX is the facility that embraces 190 countries divided into two categories. One set is self-paid and the other will receive the vaccine at a concessionary rate. There are 13 CARICOM countries which are self-paid but CARPHA is supporting nine of them with down payments to obtain the vaccine.