As Bosnia and Herzegovina prepares to rollout COVID - 19 vaccines – now is not the time to relax
Dr. Ingrid Macdonald, United Nations Resident Coordinator in BiH, reflects on the need for continued COVID19 vigilance during the roll-out of vaccinations.
On Friday 15th January the world marked two million deaths due to the COVID19 pandemic with over 4,000 people having lost their lives in Bosnia and Herzegovina. António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, commemorated this heart-wrenching milestone by reminding us of the importance of global solidarity to ‘save lives, protect people and help defeat this vicious virus.”
These numbers hide the individual stories of the men and women who have passed, the grief of their families who too often are unable to say goodbye in person and the many more survivors – some of whom may suffer long term disabilities and phycological trauma.
Since the start of the crisis, scientists from across the world have been tirelessly collaborating and innovating to develop new tests, treatments and vaccines that will save lives and end this pandemic. Fortunately, scientists had already been researching corona viruses over the last decade which provided a solid basis to jump start this work.
An unprecedented international scientific effort has fast-tracked approval of several COVID-19 vaccines whilst maintaining the quality, efficacy and safety standards required for clinical trials and approvals. Through mass vaccination programmes, we hope that these vaccines will provide a path towards the end of this devastating pandemic.
The World Health Organisation Director General, Dr. Tedros, has repeatedly reminded us that ‘Nobody is safe until everyone is safe.’ COVID-19 cannot be beaten one country at a time. It requires all countries and people to have access to vaccines.
Through the global COVAX facility, established to guarantee fair and equitable access to vaccines for all, Bosnia and Herzegovina can expect more than one million doses of vaccines to begin arriving by early 2021. In addition to its contributions to COVAX, in December 2020, the European Commission adopted a package of 70 million euros to fund the access of Western Balkans partners to COVID-19 vaccines procured by EU Member States.
The United Nations, through UNICEF and WHO, are working closely with the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina at all levels to ensure that there are timely approvals for the use of vaccines, and that they will be stored and transported appropriately.
The authorities are also finalising critical plans for the efficient and effective roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines across the country. As in all countries, the United Nations recommends that frontline health workers, the elderly, teachers, and other vulnerable or front-line groups are prioriotized first. We also recommend that all people in the country have equitable access to vaccinations, including those who may not be registered with the pubic health system, including migrants and refugees. At the same time, to gain public trust, we must boost vaccine confidence and knowledge with effective communication grounded in facts.
The delivery of safe and effective vaccines will be a game changer for Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, a country-wide roll-out will take time and this pandemic has unfortunately not finished with us. We see this across the world with intense levels of transmission due to new more contagious coronavirus variants. Huge additional strain is being placed on already overburdened health systems, doctors, nurses and hospitals.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has worked hard to achieve a stable, descending trend in cases, hospitalisations and deaths. Working together, this success can be sustained but it requires every person to remain vigilant. For the foreseeable future it is vital that we continue to wear masks, physically distance, practice good hand hygiene and avoid crowds. These simple actions can and do safe lives, especially of the most vulnerable in our society.
Continuing to practice these preventive measures while implementing the vaccination programme is also the fastest way to help get the economy back on track during 2021 and move forward with all aspects of recovery from this crisis.
Amidst fast-spreading information, social media and news, let’s remember the simple and proven steps we can all take to keep each other safe. As we fight this pandemic together, now is not the time to relax.